Suffering is a fact of human life. Some people suffer more than others, but no one completely avoids it. Have we any choice about suffering?
Though a good amount of the suffering we experience is unnecessary –– the result of our identifications, our sleep, our vices— much is unavoidable, part of the human condition.
Esoterically we have to assume that if man must suffer, then suffering must be a necessary part of connecting to higher states. Without suffering man might not be able to reach the heights described in sacred texts and illustrated in spiritual art.
There is a principle at work here and it is this: when we suffer we strengthen whatever we are feeling in our inner world.
Suffering as a Fixative
Suffering is a fixative—like a mordant used to fix dye. It tends to fix whatever part of man’s nature is uppermost while the suffering is being endured. ~ Rodney Collin
The idea here is clear: when you suffer, you have a choice. You must be careful about how you react to it because you strengthen whatever you think or feel while you suffer. If you feel that you are a victim when you suffer, then you strengthen that. If you get angry and indignant when you suffer, then suffering will reinforce your anger and indignation.
Of course, this works the other way as well. Suffering, instead of making you weaker and more depressed, has the potential to make you stronger and more content. If you can remain positive and accept your suffering, then your suffering will make you a more positive and accepting person. In a very real way you can become the person you want to be by using your difficulties to strengthen the parts of yourself you want to encourage
If a man refuses to suffer except when he is making efforts for a definite aim and knows what he wants, then he tends to fix aim and determination. ~ Rodney Collin
Choice in Using Suffering
In many ways the hardest part seems to be taking the first step. When we suffer we usually experience a myriad of emotions and thoughts, ranging from anger and frustration to acceptance. The question is: Can we choose? When we suffer, can we remember to ask ourselves: What kind of person do I want to become? What do I want to strengthen today?
This is an excerpted version of a longer article. The full article can be read at The Nature of Suffering.