Pain. We all have felt it. Pain IS pain, it doesn’t really matter if it last for 5 sec or 2 hours, it still hurts, it still is uncomfortable and we still wish it away…as fast as possible! Right?
I don’t like or want to feel pain. Nobody does, I am assuming. Is self-flagellation, which is self imposed suffering, pain? It is ‘endured’, and actually ‘wanted’ so that one can have more control over the body and emotions. This is done in order to be able to concentrate more fully on something else, which originally was and most likely still is, one’s own religious practice. In the old traditions of the Catholic Church, physical suffering was a vehicle to a ‘good life’. A ‘good life’ could only be had through showing remorse, and remorse could only be gotten through physical suffering, or pain.
Most of us wish pain away though. I know I do. I don’t like the feeling one bit. We default to wanting the easy road, the pleasant, euphoric road, and yes, the road to happiness. We all know that pain is inevitable , but is it necessary for one’s happiness? Are those who suffer more happier? What is the connection between pain and happiness? The definition by Tal Ben-Shahar describes happiness as “the overall experience of both pleasure and meaning.” If we take this definition, perhaps the experience associated with meaning, comes from suffering or pain.
The meaning of life. Perhaps we make sense of what is meaningful, what is important to us, not through things that give us pleasure, but things that impose pain. It is true that when we ( I ) experience pain or go through a difficult hardship, all semblance of the day to day life disappears and what is left is what is important, what is meaningful. Material possessions have little value, money worthless, and what is left is the true meaning of life.
I believe, however, that the realization of this ‘meaning’ only comes through how one deals with the pain or suffering. This is the path to achieving happiness. I listened while a group of 10 guys, who were traveling the Camino together recounted their experience. Many of them suffered injury, some were disillusioned and disheartened because they could not keep up with others, while others who were fit and more competitive wanted to push on ahead. All were suffering in their own way. At one point, they split up and walked separately, but in small splintered groups, they found no pleasure in that. So, they decided to walk together and ‘motivate each other’ as they walked.
Still, this did not work, because the slow ones felt even less adequate and the fast ones felt more frustrated. So, in the end, they all realized that they did want to travel together, that they had more ‘fun’ as a group, they enjoyed the Camino less by being alone, so they came up with a plan to stay together. They each took turns to lead the group, rotating everyone through a 7 minutes at the front, and then go to end of the line and continue. Surprisingly, what happened to them was that the slowest/and injured ones were energized in the lead, and everyone found pleasure in walking together.
Had it not been for the way they dealt with suffering, they would never had found their happiness. In the end, being together, sharing, laughing, and experiencing together was meaningful to them and what the Camino allowed them to learn.
Good ‘ol Forest Gump had it right, ‘Life is like a box of chocolates”. One never knows what one will get in life, some good some bad. But, I think for me, I will look at each suffering moment as a gift (or the chocolate covered caramel) and the path or opportunity to discover the meaning of happiness.