In speaking to numerous people on a regular basis, in going over emails from readers all over the world, I’ve realized that whenever anything bad happens to anyone, the first thing they experience is a sense of disbelief. While each one of us have our dejected moments of self-doubt and worthlessness, secretly though, most of us believe we are better than the average out there. Most people believe that they are more giving, caring than their partners, for example. Or, that they are better performers than their peers. So, whenever any untoward incident comes knocking on the door, the first reaction is it can’t happen to me, I don’t deserve it.
After a while, when you begin to accept that anything can happen to anyone, including you and I, another question starts to plague the mind: Why me? I get to hear so many terrible stories of suffering that you really are forced to question, what could have anyone done to deserve this in their lives? And whatever it was that they did, could it be not forgiven by nature or God or universe or whoever? The truth is some questions just don’t have answers. Law of karma, of attraction, of manifestation, everything fails at times. We are only left with some theories, consolations and probabilities.
In our unceasing efforts to not only experience joys, pleasures and happiness but somehow hold onto them forever, the only thing that actually seems to remain eternal is the opposite of these — suffering. You skip a few meals and body suffers from hunger, you skip sleeping for a few nights and you suffer from weariness, you skip resting for a few days and you become sluggish and so on. It almost feels that nature is unwilling to give any discounts whatsoever, as if it has no regard for individual preferences at all. Why is it this way? Why is suffering an intricate part of our lives? Before I delve further, allow me to share a story from the great epic Mahabharata.
After the Pandavas won the war, they approached Krishna to thank him. At the fore of such grateful people was Kunti, the mother of the Pandavas.
“Ever since I can recall, I’ve constantly bothered you with my problems, Krishna,” she said. “For your grace and blessings, I’ve never offered you anything in return. Like a beggar, I have only taken and taken from you. I know there’s nothing I can give you. You already have everything, you are everything in fact, so anything I offer will be like showing lamp to the sun.”
Clasping her hands, he said, “You don’t have to thank me, I was only walking the path of Dharma. I’m glad that you will be the queen mother once again.”
“But, I’m still not happy, Krishna, because I’m afraid. Even today, I have not come to thank you. Instead, I’ve come to ask for one last wish.”
Krishna stood there smilingly, his looks quiet and keen.
“I’ve a deep sense of insecurity,” she continued. “Constantly struggling, and battling with adversities, I lost everyone and everything that mattered to me. I’ve mostly lived in great fear because my fleeting moments of joys were far and few in between. And now that Fate has finally turned up at my doorstep with a smile, I’m afraid that with all the happiness bubbling over, I may forget you. So, I beg of you, Krishna, to not take my suffering away because it always made me remember you. I don’t want to lose you.”
In happiness or suffering, our prayers are not designed to offer God anything in return. What can we possibly offer? They are aimed to keep our bond intact with him. Just as a child cries for her mother, just like fish may jump as high as it may but it returns to the water, our suffering keeps us connected with Him, with Nature, with each other.
Although no one wants suffering in their lives, Kunti didn’t either, but in expressing her wish, she has highlighted the truth of human existence: suffering has a way of keeping you united with the source. By no means am I saying that we should go around asking for suffering (not that you would do it anyway), but I’m suggesting that perhaps suffering could be looked upon differently. Maybe like a season, a passing phase. I don’t deserve suffering is a statement Nature does not understand and Why me is a question it does not answer. Therefore, if we truly wish to get past a sense of suffering, we’ll have to focus on some other dimension of it.
One such aspect is strength. The strength suffering gives us, happiness simply can’t. The former stretches you while the latter relaxes you. Suffering is the scorching sun that makes us appreciate the cold. It’s the chilly night that makes us want the warm sun. It keeps us real. If you believe in God, then suffering adds truth to your prayers, it infuses sincerity and devotion in your personal relationship with him. But, most importantly, suffering keeps us on the ground, it makes us humble. And, humility, I may add, is the most important ingredient of a meaningful and contented life. When you go through suffering, something changes in you forever. You emerge stronger, wiser, more grateful and empathic.
Agreed that you don’t necessarily have to invite suffering or lead a life of deprivation to appreciate life. Besides, suffering is not the sort of guest that needs an invitation anyway. But, when it does appear in your lives, which it will invariably, you just have to be patient and deal with it gracefully. You can’t fight with it or tell it off. You simply have to work on the opposite. In the dark night of the soul, you gently have to light the lamp of faith. Surrender is the wick and devotion the oil of such a lamp. Presence of suffering no longer pervades the whole room then, only some corners, some moments.
At any rate, let’s be grateful, for gratitude is the antidote to suffering. It keeps you grounded, makes you strong even in the good times. Suffering leaves in the face of gratitude; they can’t coexist. The pain may still be there, but the balm of gratitude gradually heals the wounds of misery. For, as the wise one once said, pain is inevitable but suffering is optional.
Let’s not lose what we have in trying to find what we have lost.