Archive for Suffering

Who should we blame?

Society is becoming obsessed with blame. When a tragedy strikes, when relationships go wrong, when anything happens to disappoint us, there is a growing tendency to label it as someone’s fault. The concept of an “accident”, of “bad luck”, or “the way things are”, is being replaced by the idea that life ought to be a Utopia. If this Utopia is not the case, then we assume that someone is not doing their part. Much of the time, we will conclude that this person is ourself, and that we are to blame. Although this latter attitude is positive in that we are taking responsibility for our own happiness, and is definitely a better attitude than blaming others for our misery, it still leaves much to be desired.

The fundamental issue here is not so much our tendency to blame as our tendency to assume that life should be perfect. Whenever a so-called bad event occurs, we assume that there is a problem. This includes a natural disaster such as an earthquake or hurricane, contracting a disease or being diagnosed with cancer, or perhaps a disagreement in a relationship or a personal failure. Rather than recognize that such things are a part of life, we see them as a sign that something is deeply wrong. This lack of acceptance then leads us to find fault. In the case of a natural disaster, we may blame authorities for not implementing stronger housing standards or emergency procedures. In the case of a disease, we may blame our health care system for failing to detect it earlier. In our relationships and personal life, we may blame ourselves, our partner, or those around us.

It is clearly beneficial to find the causes of suffering and to take steps to reduce it. However, we must have an accepting attitude when we do this. Life is unpredictable and can never be controlled. Even the so-called preventable tragedies, caused by human error alone, can never be realistically eliminated. Therefore, while doing our best to improve on things, we must remember that death and suffering are a natural part of life, and we must also remember that no-one, ourself included, is perfect. This will let us work on problems without being bogged down by them, without feeling that life is unfair, and without looking for someone to blame.

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Nothing is permanent

Nothing in this world is permanent. We can observe this on all levels. On a universal level, stars form and collapse. On a global level, continents shift and climates change. On a personal level, we observe the decay of our body, changes to our mind, relationships coming and going, our possessions wearing out. We live in a world of constant flux. Unfortunately, many of us refuse to recognize this, and suffering is the result.

When we fail to acknowledge impermanence, we cling to things. We cling to our youth, to our health, to our relationships, and to our possessions. We cling to them as though they could provide lasting happiness, as though they will last forever. Eventually, reality intervenes. That to which we cling is taken from us, and we forced to face the truth of impermanence. Thus we have the pain of a stolen car, of an ended relationship, or the death of a loved one.

In actual fact, the pain associated with clinging arises even before these moments. The pain arises earlier in the form of fear. Deep down, we are already aware of impermanence. Therefore, if we cling to something that is temporary, we live in fear of the day when it is taken from us. We can have a much happier life if we instead realize and accept the impermanence of existence. We can see the futility of clinging to things, and instead learn to appreciate them while we have them, but without staking our happiness on them. This also helps us to make better decisions. When we understand that we will change, and that other people will change, then we can recognize when a fresh approach is needed.

The suffering that results from clinging to impermanence is not fun. Learning to acknowledge the impermanence of existing may seem scary, however it is actually liberating. In reality, we are just acknowledging something that we are already aware of anyway. When we bring it into the open, we realize that it is not so scary. We actually find that recognition of impermanence brings more lightness, acceptance, and joy into our lives, and that the fear and suffering go away.

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