The Inner Struggle

Fear and Suffering …

  “Oboe Concerto In D Minor: 2. Adagio”, Heinz Hollinger, Members of the Staatskapelle Dresden & Vittorio Negri, from the album “The Ultimate Baroque”, 2004

Lichtenstein-CastleLooking out from “Schloss Bernhart” over a sunny day with cloudy periods. rather chill with strong winds after a week of 28 degree summer blast today it is only about 10 degrees. Thinking about the similarities between fear and suffering, for they really are not the same even though some see fear AS suffering.

Fifty years ago I developed a personal technique for dealing with fear. What it comes down to is one must simply accept the fear, even welcome the fear, learn every nuance of the fear, do the things you fear until you are accustomed to the fear and the fear is almost (but never completely) a friend, even a welcome old friend who lets you know that you are really alive.

Once you get to that place where fear is a well known state of mind and is not something to fear then one can focus on the objective, the mission, regardless of the fear. One becomes used to and accepts that there will be fear and that it cannot control you and that one should never, never, never, run away from one’s fear. This is not to say that aspects of fear are not to be listened to but they should not blind you to everything else. Don’t fear the fear is the only way to sum it up.

This internalized, naturalized, habitual way of dealing with fear stood me in good stead later when I served in the military and after that in the Corrections Service. After almost 20 years of that I knew intimately that there are many, many, situations in life where fear is a big part of the event but if one does not let fear be the master then one can effectively deal with the event and succeed in the mission.

It occurred to me this morning that perhaps it might be useful to develop the same sort of habituation to suffering. Our culture encourages fear of suffering and many folks seem to believe that suffering and fear, or fear and suffering, are parts of the same thing, but they are most definitely not the same thing. Our culture teaches us to fear suffering and to do everything we can to avoid suffering. And I believe that this is a big mistake and is a significant part of what is wrong with our culture.

As I age, now in my 60’s, I see more suffering around me and experience more suffering within and it is indeed a temptation to fear the suffering. Most of my customers are “older” folks and suffering is an integral part of their daily life, probably it is an integral part of every human life.

I call suffering not just the agony of an accident or the pain of a disease or fear of death (for who isn’t going to die one day) but also all the little annoyances, and the not so little daily discouragements of life, and one’s work, and one’s relationships with others, both family members, and the general field of friends and acquaintances at large who we interact with almost every day.

As one ages, and becomes more acquainted with the reality of life, the fantasies of youth and immortality seem to drain away leaving only the daily encounter with an array of suffering, the “Daily Grind”, as many call it, which is really all there is to life, and then you die, and if you are lucky you don’t “suffer” too much in the dieing.

The commonest reaction to this suffering seems to be to get upset, excited and angry or annoyed and to fight against the suffering. In other words, we focus on the suffering and struggle against it in any way we can. The effect is that the suffering dominates our every waking moment and that, added to self pity, increases our suffering hundreds of times. Fighting against the suffering makes it a LOT worse. What really makes suffering difficult to bear is our own exceeding impatience, our refusal to accept it. This irritation increases our suffering tremendously and robs us of our peace, and our energy, and of our ability to focus on the mission.

“River Flows In You”, Yiruma, from the album “Yiruma Piano Collection” , 2001

I am considering all suffering  in this post, even the tiniest annoyances, little troubles, pains, aches, disappointments of every day. But I suspect that not only the little things but also the great sufferings become easier to bear and survive if we simply accept them and refrain from fighting against them. So I am going to try applying the same response to suffering as I did so long ago with fear.

Accept the suffering, even welcome the suffering, learn every nuance of the suffering, embrace the things that cause you suffering until you are accustomed to the suffering and the suffering is almost (but never completely) a friend, even a welcome old friend who lets you know that you are really alive.

I have observed that every human I have ever met suffers and I have read and been told that this is a common human condition found everywhere humans are found. I suspect that in fact there must be some kind of economy of suffering just as there is an economy of food and energy and everything else necessary for human life and development. I am thinking that it (suffering) is for a higher purpose than just making me personally miserable.

I think that there must be something to learn through any suffering even as I learned to pass through fear and accomplish the mission so many years ago and if I apply the same lessons to suffering I will pass through the suffering to accomplish the mission – which is … to become a better human being? We learn best through first hand experience. I will let you know how this works out for me.



coptic-desertAlways remember, “be charitable in your judgements, and never take yourself too seriously”