Gurdjieff once said: “In the river of life suffering is not intentional. In conscious life suffering is intentional and of great value.” Setting all biases aside, I have been delving into the extraordinary Spring issue of Parabola and one thing that I have noticed that is common to all of the wisdom traditions, is the view that suffering can be useful for us, provided we accept and embrace it.
Unfortunately, when I experience a real suffering, my tendency is to immediately avoid it or to get taken by endless distractions, rather than experiencing it directly and allowing it to work on me. Maybe it is because I lack a certain capacity to stay in front of it. After all, a real suffering can be pretty annihilating.
If I look at my life, I find it was the moments where I was stretched in some way, where there has often been pain, that I learned the most. Difficult as those moments are, they allow for new growth. Maybe the suffering that could most easily be avoided is caused by rigidity, or steadfastness to attitudes that I may have towards it. Maybe what is required is to be in question about it, a shift in to an attitude that is more open and more porous. It has always stuck me that the word “understanding” contains the words “standing under.” Could suffering be a gift, and if it is, can I stand under it and allow it to rain on me?
Pictured: Jack Kerouac, Face of the Buddha, Pencil on Paper, 1958?