The Art of Transforming Suffering

The Art of Transforming Suffering

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“Most people are afraid of suffering. But suffering is a kind of mud to help the lotus flower of happiness grow. There can be no lotus flower without the mud.”


Related: How to Find Peace in A Troubled World?

What Does Suffering Mean? Or, What Is the Meaning of Suffering?

We all want to be happy, and there are many books and teachers in the world that try to help people be happier. Yet we all continue to suffer. Therefore, we   may think   that we’re “doing it wrong.” Somehow we   are “failing at happiness.” That isn’t true.  

Being able to enjoy happiness doesn’t require that we have zero suffering.  The art of happiness is also the art of suffering well. When we learn to acknowledge, embrace, and understand our suffering, we suffer much less.  

Not only that, but we’re also able to go further and transform our suffering into understanding, compassion, and joy for ourselves and others. One of the most difficult things for us to accept is that there is no realm where there’s only happiness, and there’s no suffering. 

This doesn’t mean that we should despair. Suffering can be transformed. As soon as we open our mouths to say “suffering,” we know that the opposite of suffering is already there as well. Where there is suffering, there is happiness.

According to the creation story in the biblical book of Genesis, God said, “Let there be light.” I like to imagine that light replied, saying, “God, I have to wait for my twin brother, darkness, to be with me. I   can’t   be there   without the darkness.”  God asked, “Why do you need to wait?   Darkness is there.” Light answered, “In that case, then I am also already there.”

If we focus exclusively on pursuing happiness, we may regard suffering as something to be ignored or resisted. We think of it as something that gets in the way of happiness.  But the art of happiness is also and at the same time the art of knowing how to suffer well.   If we know how to use our suffering, we can transform it and suffer much less. Knowing how to suffer well is essential to realizing true happiness.


Will The Pain and Suffering Ever End?

SUFFERING AND HAPPINESS ARE NOT SEPARATE: When we suffer, we tend to think that suffering is all there is at that moment, and happiness belongs to some other time or place.  People often   ask, “Why do I have to suffer?” Thinking we should be able to have a life without any suffering is as deluded as thinking we should be able to have a left side without a right side. The same is true of thinking we have a life in which no happiness whatsoever is to be found. 

If the left says, “Right, you have to go away. I don’t want you. I only want the left”—that’s nonsense because then the left would have to stop existing as well. If there’s no right, then there’s no left. Where there is no suffering, there can be no happiness either, and vice versa.

If we can learn to see and skilfully engage with both the presence of happiness and the presence of suffering, we will go in the direction of enjoying life more. Every day we go a little farther in that direction, and eventually, we realize that suffering and happiness are not two separate things.

Cold air can be painful if you aren’t wearing enough warm clothes. But when you’re feeling overheated or you’re walking outside with proper clothing, the bracing sensation of cold air can be a source of feeling joy and aliveness. Suffering isn’t some kind of external, objective source of oppression and pain.

There might be things that cause you to suffer, such as loud music or bright lights, which may bring other people joy. Some things bring you joy that annoys other people. The rainy day that ruins your plans for a picnic is a boon for the farmer whose field is parched.

Happiness is possible right now!

Happiness is possible right now, today—but happiness cannot be without suffering.  Some people think that to be happy they must avoid all suffering, and so they are constantly vigilant, constantly worrying. They end up sacrificing all their spontaneity, freedom, and joy. This isn’t correct. If you can recognize and accept your pain without running away from it, you will discover that although pain is there, joy can also be there at the same time.

Some say that suffering is only an illusion or that to live wisely we have to “transcend” both suffering and joy. I say the opposite. The way to suffer well and be happy is to stay in touch with what is going on; in doing so, you will gain liberating insights into the true nature of suffering and joy.


Why Good Person Always Suffer? – NO MUD, NO LOTUS

Both suffering and happiness are organic, which means they are both transitory; they are always changing.   The flower, when it wilts, becomes the compost. The compost can help grow a flower again. Happiness is also organic and impermanent by nature. It can become suffering, and suffering can become happy again.

If there’s no cloud, there’s no rain, and no flower can grow.

If you look deeply into a flower, you see that a flower is made only of non-flower elements. In that flower, there is a cloud. Of course, we know a cloud isn’t a flower, but without a cloud, a flower can’t be. If there’s no cloud, there’s no rain, and no flower can grow.   You don’t have to be a   dreamer to see a cloud floating in a flower. It’s there. Sunlight is also there.  Sunlight isn’t a flower, but without sunlight no flower is possible.

If we continue to look deeply into the flower, we see many other things, like the earth and the minerals. Without them, a flower cannot be. So it’s a fact that a flower is made only of non-flower elements. A flower can’t be by herself alone. A flower can only inter-be with everything else. You can’t remove the sunlight, the soil, or the cloud from the flower.

If you don’t have mud, the lotus won’t manifest.

In each of our Plum Village practice centers around the world, we have a lotus pond. Everyone knows we need to have mud for lotuses to grow. The mud doesn’t smell so good, but the lotus flower smells very good. If you don’t have mud, the lotus won’t manifest. You can’t grow lotus flowers on marble. Without mud, there can be no lotus. It is possible of course to get stuck in the “mud” of life.   It’s easy enough to notice mud all over you at times. 

The hardest thing to practice is not allowing yourself to be overwhelmed by despair. When you’re overwhelmed by despair, all you can see is suffering everywhere you look.   You feel as if the worst thing is happening to you. But we must remember that suffering is a   kind of mud that we need to generate joy and happiness.  Without suffering, there’s no happiness. So we shouldn’t discriminate against the mud.

We have to learn how to embrace and cradle our suffering and the suffering of the world, with a lot of tenderness.

Also Read: 22 Peace Quotes to Inspire Love and Tranquillity


Another Word for Suffering?

Ache: an emotion experienced with painful or bittersweet intensity.

Opposite of Suffered?

Alleviate: Since his father’s suffering makes him suffer empathetically, alleviating his father’s pain will help alleviate his pain.

Suffering in A Sentence?

The medication should ease the suffering.

Suffering Biblical Definition?

In both Christianity and Judaism, the peak of suffering is reached when an individual (or a people) prefers to give his or her own life rather than transgress God’s commandments or forsake and repudiate true religion.

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