Suffering

Suffering is a broad concept which encompasses many aspects of life after injury, be it physical or mental. It can also be described as the suffering that one feels or experiences as “a something inside.” This elusive something inside seems to be always present to varying degrees, occupying the forefront of consciousness or lingering quietly in the background, despite any facility or difficulty on one’s part to reach and to describe the experience. At times, this some-thing will feel more like a no-thing, perhaps at times not much more articulate than silence or a grunt.

It can feel impossible, at times, to live with our own mental states. Clinically speaking, Wilfred Bion notes that, “There are patients whose contact with reality presents the most difficulty when that Reality is their own mental state”. Furthermore, he adds that “the patient who will not suffer pain fails to suffer pleasure”. For Bion, psychoanalysis requires suffering the fact that pain exists both for self and for other. Similarly, the Buddhist commitment to save all beings, also acknowledges the suffering of both the self and others. In this context, to suffer means to permit or to allow.

The Zen teacher Robert Aitkin writes that, “Duhkha, the truth of suffering…is resistance to suffering. It is the anguish we feel when we don’t want to suffer”. This constant, ambiguous “something inside” that Ione sometimes may feel, or that what one is not capable of feeling, may be, at the time, the best one could do to describe the nameless depths of his or her own anguish, frustration, and pain.

“Something inside” perhaps serves as a compromise for what can and cannot be said about what might or might not be felt. The capacity for suffering, and even naming suffering, can often become buried under layers of confusion and distraction. As the American Zen teacher Dennis Merzel notes: “Ultimately, there is no truth, only endless layers of self-deception”.

The loss of our capacity to suffer and to articulate our experience of suffering finds expression in the dilution of meaning and feeling that stems from misuse or overuse of language. What might be said about pain, anguish, or terror becomes diffused into infinity. Whatever can be said about what might be numbed out and what might be felt becomes safely reduced to cliche. As a result, language becomes stripped of both its meaning and its impact. However, despite the many ways one might resist, conceptualize, articulate, buffer, or neutralize experience, suffering remains real.

It can be argued that what is at stake is one’s capacity for experiencing, for suffering. This capacity might or might not have been developed, derailed, damaged, deformed, interrupted, or stalled. Suffering, when considered as permitting experience, engenders a deepening into life: into our pains and our pleasures, our terrors and our delights. Allowing such experiences, over time, increases one’s capacity for suffering.

Numbing or nulling out our capacity to suffer being human looms as an equally large problem, as does felt suffering. A person may think about it in terms of oscillations and ask: “Do oscillations engender balance points between insensate mindlessness and exquisite mindfulness where the impacts of life can be felt, experienced, permitted, endured and allowed?”.

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