Hard sell of a lifetime: Get familiar with suffering

I know this is not what you want to hear. You are wired to not want suffering, and yet suffering is so integral to our lives that it really does need to be explored.

Suffering is the subject of the four noble truths, the first teaching given by the Buddha once he attained enlightenment. He said that suffering is inevitable, that our resistance to it is what makes us miserable, that there is a way out, and that way out is composed of the eightfold path.

Suffering takes many forms. Sure, sickness, old age, and death are forms of suffering. But so are disappointing take out, a too-tight waistband, and a hurtful remark from your mom.

The other day, my son got a much-needed haircut. Initially he was ok with it but hours later, he felt that it wasn’t straight enough, it didn’t look good, and it was therefore the worst day of his life. I sat there listening to and watching him thrash about in his room about his hair and thought to myself: this is suffering.

So much of our relationship with food and body has to do with our suffering. We diet because we think it will alleviate suffering. We self-medicate with food because we think it will alleviate our suffering. We obsess about our bodies because we are convinced that our bodies cause us suffering and that changing them will alleviate that suffering. The relationship between food, bodies, and suffering is deep and entrenched. But that also means that how we relate to food and our bodies can also be a path to the alleviation of suffering.

But before we can alleviate it, we have to call suffering what it is. When you want this but think you should have that, say to yourself “this is suffering.” When you look in the mirror and do not like what you see, “this is suffering.” When you are out in the world and you realize how many forces are pushing you to change, “this is suffering.”

Whether suffering is with a capital ‘S’ or a lowercase ‘s’, it is uncomfortable. You’re not going to like it. You’re not going to want it. But you could become more familiar with it and, through that work, start to accept its inevitability so that you don’t compound your suffering with even more suffering.

You’re not alone.