Pain, suffering not always bad

Kevin VanAntwerpen

Nobody likes being in pain. Well, not unless you’re just a little bit weird. But have you ever wondered what life would be like without suffering?

I spent some time last semester in a scriptures as literature class, which I’ll admit, exposed me to a lot of philosophical and religious ideas that growing up in a primarily conservative-Christian West Michigan allowed.

The cold fronts began rolling in around the time we started studying Buddhism. It may just be me, but it seems that with cold weather and suffering go hand in hand. I’m not referring to the chilled steering wheel as you’re driving to school, or icy breeze when you’re trying to cram in a last cigarette before class — it seems that winter is when relationships begin to fall apart, and bad news seems all the more abundant.

During that semester, I watched a couple friends go to war with their significant others. There were suicides among acquaintances, people I didn’t really know but I knew of. I watched from the outside as others mourned or dealt with the anger. Money was tight. Christmas was approaching, which meant there was more to do and less time to do it.

And that’s when I started reading about one of Buddhism’s primary goals — the cessation of suffering. Don’t get me wrong, there are a lot of great ideas intertwined with Buddhism, and I have a mountain’s worth of respect for anyone who chooses to walk that road. But the semester got me thinking: what would life be like with a complete lack of suffering?

I don’t know about you, but I think I’d hate it.

For starters, maybe it’s my Type A personality, but I consider suffering a motivator. As messed up as it may sound, suffering can provide a purpose. It gives us a goal to strive toward. Without suffering we wouldn’t have art. We wouldn’t have poetry. We wouldn’t have a reason to strive for excellence, or to create something better than anyone has created before.

And suffering is at least a little interesting, right? If it weren’t possible to make mistakes or take risks, where would the excitement be?

Suffering is part of the elegance of human existence. We’re amazing creatures with the capability of falling down and breaking our noses on the floor, yet we can still get up, wipe away the blood, and keep on moving. The human being can take a harsh beating both physically and mentally and still overcome. The human being can make awful mistakes and somehow still find a way to redemption, to become better than before.

And that’s why I think pain is beautiful. It’s awful too. But I think the beauty is worth the struggle.

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