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Why is Suffering Necessary and It’s Not Enough?

Suffering does not happen in vain

Yellowstone Caldera: the drama of the natural world

You may think that what you’re seeing in the image above is a wonderful painting, and indeed it is. But it is a painting drawn by the drama of the natural world. A painting formed over the past 2.1 million years and measures about 55 by 72 km. This majestic beauty consists of the hidden supervolcano’s power emitted through colorful hot springs, molten rocks, mud-lands and geysers. It’s Yellowstone Caldera, one of the most magnificent natural views in North America, located in the first National Park in the United States.

Yellowstone Caldera is just an example of what could come out from the drama of the natural world, but we are here to talk about the drama in the human world.

“To care only for well-being seems to me positively ill-bred. Whether it’s good or bad, it is sometimes very pleasant, too, to smash things.” ~ Fyodor Dostoevsky

It is almost a year ago. I was sitting on my sofa, reading an article from Zat Rana as I was stopped by an equation describing the attractive personality and the process of reaching it. Rana wrote:

There are some people who when they speak, or when they move, or when they listen, or when they make things, or when they look at you, they do so in a way that hints at a deeper confidence and authenticity. They have a secret that reaches beyond superficiality. This secret is the result of work and intention, suffering and reconciliation.

The last sentence got me thinking about it. I started asking: why suffering? Why is it necessary and why is it not enough? Why we need a reconciliation? I was looking for an answer that makes sense and I think that I found it now.

Most of us agree about the importance of work and intention, but what is not clear is the role of suffering. The idea of reconciliation seems reasonable, since not everyone who had suffered in his life, had reached the wanted result. Let’s take a simple example to understand the equation better:

Adam wants to have a charismatic personality, and Alex has the same intention. Both of them read books, watch videos, follow the advises provided by experts to achieve their goals. The only difference between Adam and Alex is that one of them has a sad and painful story in his life unlike the other.

According to the equation, the person who experienced suffering has a greater chance to reach much better result than the other. To understand “why”, I was set on a journey where I passed through several stations, and I was connecting some memories that came back to meand some experiences from the past with new ones. One of the stations that I passed through was Emily Esfahani Smith’s TED presentation “There is more to life than being happy”.

Four Pillars of a Meaningful Life

In her book “The Power of Meaning: Finding Fulfillment in a World Obsessed With Happiness”, Emily Esfahani Smith rounds up the latest research to argue that having meaning in life, serving something beyond yourself and developing the best within you, gives you something to hold onto and is far more fulfilling than the pursuit of personal happiness. She found that there are four pillars of a meaningful life: Belonging, Purpose, Transcendence and Storytelling.

Transcendence is stepping beyond yourself. Transcendent states are those rare moments when you’re lifted above the hustle and bustle of daily life, your sense of self fades away, and you feel connected to a higher reality. You may get so in the zone that you lose all sense of time and place. Transcendence may come from seeing nature, through faith and practicing religion, through writing, and even through pain and suffering. These transcendent experiences can change you. One study had students look up at 200-feet-tall eucalyptus trees for one minute. But afterwards they felt less self-centered, and they even behaved more generously when given the chance to help someone.

Storytelling is the story you tell yourself about yourself. Creating a narrative from the events of your life brings clarity. It helps you to understand how you became you. “My life was good, now it’s bad.” is an example of a bad Storytelling. A good one is: “Before my injury, my life was purposeless. I was selfish, but my injury made me realize I could be a better man”.

The Role of Pain and Suffering

Trying to answer our first question now, we could say that “pain and suffering” are triggers for the process of Transcendence. In addition to transcending the self, people leading meaningful lives tend to tell stories about their lives defined by redemption, growth and love. To achieve this goal, we need reconciliation. Zat Rana does not mentioned the players involved in this step, but I think that it goes beyond a reconciliation with the “Other” to be a reconciliation with the self and a re-connection between the self and God in order to reach the human depth that is mentioned by Eckhart Tolle in his following quote:

Is suffering really necessary? Yes and no. If you had not suffered as you have, there would be no depth to you as a human being, no humility, no compassion. You would not be reading this now. Suffering cracks open the shell of ego and then comes a point when it has served its purpose. Suffering is necessary until you realize it is unnecessary.” ~ Eckhart Tolle

Having patience and faith — which means belonging to and serving something beyond yourself — is helpful on the endeavor to step beyond the self and be on the spiritual journey to look at things from a different perspective and jump to a higher awareness. The unwanted and the unexpected can bring with it a new hidden meaning and doesn’t always have to be that bad.If things will always remain as they are, there will be no room for growth and improvement. We will not have the opportunity to learn and try something new or discover other interests. More importantly, we will not be able to correct our mistakes if there will be no changes.

In order to achieve reconciliation, it is important to turn attention away from the thoughts of being a victim: “this is my story, this is what happened to me, it’s not my mistake, I got hurt, etc”. Being stuck in the ego story will deprive us from transcending and moving on to a higher consciousness level.

So many people have experienced personal adversity, then became themselves unjust. On the contrary, if we look back through history, we find examples of persons who experienced happiness even in the most painful circumstances and got empowered by them. Hence the importance of reconciliation in the process of learning and growing that includes pain and difficulties. We can see now that “Suffering and Reconciliation” are related to the four pillars of a meaningful life: “Transcendence, Storytelling, Belonging and Purpose.

To represent the journey of making our way toward less suffering and more empowerment, I came up with the following diagram:

The Pain Diagram: Suffering and Transcending (by Rakia Ben Sassi)

Beauty in the Broken:

One of the possible outputs of a deep pain is what I’m calling “Beauty in the Broken”. When bleeding emotions meet creativity they will take a new direction and the story will be different. In his book “Suffering Art Gladly”, David Davies addresses the problem of explaining the appeal of artworks whose appreciation entails negative or difficult emotions on the appreciator’s part what has traditionally been known as “the paradox of tragedy”.

Just like Van Gogh who painted The Starry Night while in emotional torment and Milton who penned Paradise Lost after losing his wife, his daughter and his eyesight,there are people who instead of recoiling in passive suffering, they choose tolet their sorrow and grief give them insight to turn it into something bigger and so was the main character in “The Communication Game and Side Effects”: the tree. This tree story was written by the German author Heinz Körner and I extended it in the mentioned article.

After being soul abused by the Gardner and his wife since her childhood, the tree met someone who let her discover how wonderful her life and how good her self confidence could be. The encounter was an opportunity for her to feel alive and experience the deep inner peace that she’d never experienced. It was a chance to prove how a such healthy communication could heal her soul. She felt very happy but her bleeding pain floated again. She was a “Fish out of Water” that can finally breathe and feel at home. But that was just an encounter. She’s still living in her abuser’s garden, she’s still screaming inside, she’s still starving emotionally. She tasted the remedy, but the remedy was not for her.

Her self- and outer world awareness are increased. She can see now that her believe that “the Gardner was not satisfied with her because she was not good enough” was wrong. The Gardner is a manipulator that has some personal issues. She understood the truth and found answers to many questions, but some answers were ugly enough that it was very difficult to accept them. New questions came up which set her again on the journey of looking for explanation, for meaning and for reason: what’s the purpose of the gentleman’s encounter? Is it happened to help her understand her previous life better? Or to let her see an alternative life but just from a small window? Is it happened to prove that she is not so bad and her value is much bigger than what she thought? She felt like she is continuing starving after seeing a tasty food, which could hurt more than starving without seeing it.

At that moment of emotional struggles, and for the first time in her life, the tree came to realize that she can write poetry. After “The Traveler Stuck in Time”, she wrote “The Next Dance” which is the next chapter in her life that she is trying to choreograph:

Photo by reza shayestehpour on Unsplash

The Next Dance

The sunlight is so wonderful but I fear that some eyes are accustomed to a long night’s darkness and got hurt by it
They don’t know whether to blame the night or the sunlight that they can barely look at it
Sun, how could you visit those eyes, then leave them and let them swallow the darkness again?
How could you let me die while I still alive?
How could I feel at home where no home?
How could I fly in the sky with no wings?
How could I connect where no stream?
How could I breathe where no oxygen?
How could I move forward where no path?
How could a flower sprout where no rain?
How could a sense be found where no sense?

When the theories are abolished and the judgments shut up
and the voices are muted in the throats
and the dreams are buried alive
When the pain becomes a beautiful companion
and the smile becomes a deceiving mask
Oh my heart, oh my soul, do not despair… you have a God who knows
After the night, there is a dawn that will be born
May the cure is waiting for you tomorrow
May the sun’s warmth come back to enlighten your corners
At that day, I will gather the bunches of my soul, and strew them in the sky
and unleash my tears and let them penetrate the blue wall,
wet the soil and water the grass
to make from them an oasis where all my pain calm down

نور الشمس جميل لكن أخشى على عيون تعودت ظلمة ليل طويل آذاها 
فهي لا تعرف هل تلوم اليل أم أشعة الشمس الدافئة التي بالكاد تقدر على النظر إليها
يا شمس، لما تزورين ثم تغادرين عيونا و تتركينها تتجرع حلكة ليل مجددا؟
آه يا قلبي و آه يا روحي، أرجو لك من الله فرجا

عندما تسقط النظريات و تخرص الأحكام
و تكتم الأصوات في الحناجر
و تدفن الأحلام في الصدور
ويصير الألم جمالا يؤنس
والبسم قناعا يخدع
فيا قلب لا تيأس، فلك رب يعلم
وبعد الليل فجر يطلع
فلعل البلسم غدا ينتظر 
ودفئ الصبح زواياك يتخلل

عندها، سأجمع عناقيد نفسي، و أنثرها في سمائك
و أترك العنان لدمعي يخترق جدارك الأزرق
يبلل تربة أرضك و يروي عشبك الأخضر
ليكون واحة تهدأ عليها كل آلامي

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