We all seek absolute happiness above all else and want nothing but to have pleasant experiences. But life doesn’t always give us the experiences we want. Oftentimes, it can feel like life is giving us a series of failures and disappointments.
We might experience health problems, lose a loved one, go through sudden transitions, lose our job, separate from a lover or a friend, or undergo emotional turmoil or psychological confusion.
Suffering can happen to a single individual on a personal level or to a nation on a broad level. It knows no time, no gender, no place. It just happens, unexpectedly, while we have our guards down.
Since we believe that we’re better off without pain, we resist it when it manifests.
This is exactly what I used to do until it occurred to me that I can’t escape suffering. When something goes right, something else goes wrong.
I have finally realized that I can’t avoid suffering. I know it’s our natural habit to want to dispel hardships, but before pouring all our energy into abolishing pain, we should dedicate some of this energy to seeing the value in suffering.
How can we see value in adversities? How can we transform pain into an opportunity? To start off, we need to ask ourselves how we interpret pain. Do we think it’s peculiar? Are we convinced that we should only experience its opposite? Is it a barrier or a hindrance to our happiness?
I’ve always been inspired by how Buddhist philosophy interprets pain. We can reflect on how the Buddha sought growth once he had seen sickness, old age, and death. He discovered that certain sufferings in life are inescapable and they will eventually happen to everyone—unexceptionally. Pain was his wake-up call and, as a result, he left his wealthy life and family behind to seek answers.
The first of the Buddha’s teachings on the Four Noble Truths clearly states that, “Life is suffering.” Are we aware that pain is inescapable? Do we understand that not all adversities are within our control?
Pain is a crucial part of life since the natural cycle of our existence revolves around birth and death. Behold nature, people, Earth—there must be death for birth to take place. And at the moment of both birth and death, we experience pain.
But any other pain that happens between those two timelines is meant to teach us. Growth is one of the essential purposes of our existence—and life throws at us not the experiences that we desire, but the experiences that perpetuate our growth. And while growth doesn’t always require pain—some people choose not to grow from suffering—every painful experience is a lesson in disguise, no matter how much we try to resist, avoid, or ignore its benefit.
I now understand that while we can’t always choose the suffering we endure, we can choose how to respond to suffering. With suffering comes opportunity. Pain should make us stop, question, doubt, think. Imagine that pain is like something going wrong with your car while you’re driving. You wouldn’t keep driving hoping that whatever is wrong just disappears. You’d pull over to check what’s happening.
When suffering kicks in, pull over—don’t get in the way of your growth.
Pain makes us question our significance, existence, and purpose. Allow pain to make you question. Allow pain to break your ego and help you learn humility. Because oftentimes, the same painful experiences will repeat themselves until we grow from them.
Being diagnosed with a terminal illness might make us appreciate our life and health. Losing someone we love might help us understand impermanence and the inability to control events. Experiencing war might help us appreciate our family and homeland. Near-death experiences might help us value the present moment.
Whatever pain you are experiencing now, walk through it. There is a growth opportunity lurking at its core—dig for it.
Because every failure is indeed a success.