Suffering! How I Found Love In That S-word

Suffering! How I Found Love In That S-word

TLDR: Once you fall in love with suffering, you won’t have to suffer anymore. Here is why and how to go about doing it.

What? Have I read the title wrongly? Fall in love with my suffering? Why would I ever want to do that? Well, to begin with, we have misjudged and misunderstood suffering.

Recently, I was invited by the Singapore Buddhist Mission to speak on How Buddhism has transformed my life? Throughout the 45 mins, I noticed most of what I talked about was how I overcame my sufferings.

Sufferings come in many forms. 

“Lucky” for me, I’ve experienced many from the grief of losing my father, the guilt of not seeing my father for a year before he passed away due to my medical condition, go the physical and mental pain of my cancer treatments, I could go on and on, but that would make this article too depressing. So, why don’t I turn my sufferings around?

Suffering does not discriminate

If you take a closer look, suffering is an inevitability in life. I have not heard of anyone who has not suffered, whether it is physical or mental, we all suffer. It is bound to happen, and I’ve not heard of anyone immune to it as well.

All existence is Dukkha. According to the first noble truth in Buddhism, there is dukkha, often translated as suffering (though a sense of dissatisfaction is a closer meaning).

When I first came across the word dukkha, I didn’t pay much attention to it. 

I simply thought it’s true, and it makes sense, but I didn’t heed the advice as a warning. I mean, I have had my fair share of sufferings, and I dealt with them promptly. But I neglected to pay attention to the second noble truth, which said that our constant wanting and resisting causes suffering. 

What I failed to understand is my resistance to suffering when I’ve been warned. Can accepting the fact that bad things do happen in life reduce suffering? Apparently, it does.

It’s ok to not be ok.

Mended heart from suffering

Acceptance does not mean you are ok with it. But by reacting against the pain—resisting or rejecting it—we create unnecessary suffering. It doesn’t mean that you’ve chosen or agreed with what has happened to you. 

It doesn’t mean you like panic attacks, the side effects of cancer treatments, or suffering an injustice that has happened to you or someone else.

Rather, you’re choosing to allow it to be there when you can’t change it at that moment. To make space for it. To give yourself the patience to understand what’s going on, feel what you feel, or have experienced what you’ve experienced without creating unproductive anger or anxiety. 

The pain might still be there, but some of the “by-products” of the suffering will be alleviated.

Sufferings are to be embraced.

One of my strengths, or I personally like to think of as a strength, is I have the ability to go deep into my experiences and examine what is truly happening to me. My life experiences are like a school; I attend to each experience like a student in the class, waiting to see what is going on and what I can learn from it.

What I have learnt is that I haven’t become stronger after much suffering. I just feel more exhausted and weak, but I also feel more resilient towards suffering.

It’s like if I embrace every suffering, wouldn’t I get better at dealing with the unavoidable? Wouldn’t it make sense to embrace it rather than detest it?

Whenever I face any bad situation or problem that happens to me willingly and enthusiastically, it eases me into making better decisions. I feel less stressed out in dealing with it.

Suffering can be a valuable teaching.

Most of the time, we misinterpret suffering, thinking it comes from the world or the people around us. But it’s impossible for the world to cause you suffering if you don’t allow it. Also, suffering is a good thing, a kind of nourishment.

In order to be happy, you have to first find the meaning of happiness, and suffering becomes a catalyst for you to define it. It’s like using the dictionary – in order to understand happiness; you need to read up the definition of the word. 

You can treat suffering as nourishment, a kind of tonic for your life that activates your willpower and allows you to discover your own strength and clarify your doubts.

For instance, the side effects I suffered from cancer treatment reminded me to stop procrastinating and postponing the things I really wanted to do. It also helped me focus on the present and discover the meaning of life.  

Pain is certain, but suffering is optional.

External forces have always caused us much suffering. Although they can trigger our negative emotions, we forget that peace in the heart is also there. Our lack of awareness might be the cause of many of our sufferings, but it’s not like we can’t do anything about it. 

We might not be able to control what has happened to us, but we can choose how we respond to it. So, my point here is that no matter how horrible a situation may seem, we can still stay focused in the present moment. 

Being in the present moment helps us to become aware of our peaceful mental state within. We shouldn’t let bad situations rattle us into a corner and face defeat, thinking there is no way out of it. 

A bad situation could be an opportunity for something good.

Sapa looking for Opportunity

Sometimes, things aren’t as bad as we think they are. It just so happens that we’re conditioned by society to get what we want, and if we don’t get it, we automatically feel disheartened or disappointed. 

Bad things in life can also be a stepping stone towards good things that may happen in the future. 

I remember desperately wanting to secure a job which I was rejected. But that allowed me to apply and secure another job opportunity that was far greater and better than what I had expected. 

Suffering doesn’t belong to anyone.

Suffering does not belong to anyone

Suffering is only as bad as you want it to be. If I remove “me” from my problem, it will just be a problem and not “my problem.” Suffering no longer becomes personal; the problem is as it is. 

There are no good or bad experiences. An experience is an experience if you see it for what it really is. It only becomes good or bad when we judge it.

If I know something will be bad for me, it will be bad for me. I choose to suffer; then I suffer. It all depends on how we look at things. 

When we stop owning our sufferings with our egos, our sufferings will end. In Buddhism, phenomena are characterised by impermanence, no-self and dissatisfaction (dukkha). Suffering as taught by the Buddha, only occurs when there is an “I” (Self-identity), “Me” (Self-ownership), and “Mine” (feeling of a Self) due to our erroneous belief. 

No-Self, or anatta is the hardest to comprehend because it is a deep-seated belief that we own our thoughts, feelings and body when in fact we are more a slave than a master to these impermanent phenomena. 

We tend to attach ourselves to problems due to our egos. As a result, we make suffering a problem, my problem.

Every suffering will be worth it.

Suffering can be valuable if we can understand the underlying truth that suffering is the gateway to enlightenment. Although it does not mean we pursue suffering, it can help open the door to awakening if we become aware of it. 

Pigs can eat rotten food and still find it delicious. Lotus cannot grow without the mud, and enlightenment cannot be attained without becoming aware of the causes of suffering.

Only when we are aware, can we change suffering.


Wise steps:

  • By accepting that sufferings are inevitable and can’t be avoided, we can learn to embrace them as a catalyst for happiness.

  • Treat sufferings for what they are; they don’t belong to you or anyone.

  • Not every suffering is bad; we can choose to look at it differently and turn it into an opportunity leading to something better.

  • Sufferings are worth having only if they lead us to our own awakening.
Your Relationship With Others Is A Relationship With Yourself

Your Relationship With Others Is A Relationship With Yourself

TLDR: We are constantly being acted on by people and our environment via sense contact to develop relationships. But our relationship with others grows in maturity only when we learn to have a good relationship with ourselves. 

All of us have relationships. The instant we are born, we have relationships with our parents. When we grow up, we learn about friendships and later romantic love, and marriage. Although it seems like relationships are between two or more people, our relationship with others is actually a relationship with ourselves

How Our Reactions Are Triggered

Think of yourself having a stroll in a quiet park. Suddenly, someone cycles past you from behind with his speakers blaring loud music. What would your response be? You may feel annoyed with someone breaking the beautiful silent walk and turn to see who that perpetrator is. Or you may turn around just to know who is playing the loud music. What triggered the response?

Our senses are always picking up on sense vibrations in our environment. In the case of hearing loud music, the ear has come into contact with sound vibrations. When we see objects, it is the vibration of light that has contacted the eye sense. If you go to a concert, you may find that even your body can feel vibrations of sounds.

It is from the vibrations of others’ voice, tone and facial expressions that we react and respond. We ourselves produce vibrations that affect others.

In this way, we are always being acted on by people and our environment through the senses. When the wind blows and the thunder roars, we can also feel the vibration throughout our bodies. It may cause us to wear a jacket to protect against the cold or hide under our blanket. Thus, we also form a relationship with our environment through vibrations.

Our Reactions Based On Expectations

Most of us feel justified that our reactions are dependent on another person’s behaviour. If the other person is polite, we will be polite, if the other person is rude we will be rude. But haven’t you experienced that despite your warmth and courtesy, some relatives or even acquaintances remain cold and aloof?

Encounters with rude people when we are polite more often than not brings up a negative reaction from us. Since we hold expectations of how people should behave, we therefore react.

The kind of reaction we give also depends on our level of maturity. At a certain age or stage in life, we might just move on and ignore an impolite person. But if this difficult person is someone whom you live with at home, it is harder to ignore.

Relationships At Home

We cannot avoid facing our expectations of what people should be like in order to have a good relationship, especially with those we live with at home.

We expect our parents to be a certain way – perhaps we wish they are less angry, less nosy or more independent. We may also wish that our siblings could be warmer or less selfish. Where do we get these expectations from? We could have gotten them from being exposed to various forms of media to observing what others have that we do not have.

Relationships at home could be suffering or heavenly. If it is heavenly in the sense that everyone is equally caring and sharing, we may not attempt to look deeply into the relationship. But not many relationships are perfect. In the case of frictions, one may notice that when one backs off in a conflict, the altercation ends. I am speaking of normal conflicts at home, not abusive ones which require professional help. In fact, if one is in an abusive relationship, it is important to protect oneself by asking for relevant help.

However, when one backs down in a conflict, one may feel unjustified. For example, parents can feel justified speaking over their children with authority. The children, on the other hand, feel justified in saying they are right because their parents’ have an outdated view of the world.

How We Affect Those Around Us

Since we are always acted on by outer vibrations from others and our surroundings, we are as capable of acting upon others. Unfortunately, in most conflicts, people do not see the wisdom of the Buddha’s teachings where he said that hate is never appeased by hate; hate is only appeased by love; this is an eternal law. The Buddha was speaking about a universal law that is inexhaustible. Most of us are aware of human laws but not universal laws, so we don’t experiment with it.

Imagine yourself yelling at someone with anger. How would your response be if that person keeps silent and agrees with you? This person then returns when you are sufficiently calmed to apologise and iron out your disagreements peacefully. How would you feel? Would anger continue to seeth within you?

Deep unresolved conflicts within the family can cause disharmony within an individual, who then brings his/her unhappiness to school or the workplace.

Unresolved strife developed in the family can also cause an individual to lead a company or society to a path of conflict if s/he becomes a leader in later life. 

Conflicts do not only exist on the outside but from within. When we have thoughts of ill will such as anxiety or fear, do we appease it with love and forgiveness or more hate – such as hating ourselves for being a coward or not being able to do better? Besides having relationships with others, the key relationship in our lives is actually our relationship with our thoughts.  Conflicting thoughts could be developed through reaction to unhappy family life in childhood.  

Having A Good Relationship With Yourself Influences Others

The good thing about friction with others is that it makes some of us look deeper within ourselves. We may start asking if we are hateful that others are mean to us? Or we may wonder if it is due to fate that we aren’t well respected by others. Or we could feel that people are mean and that the world is a dangerous place. 

When we look deeper we may discover that the other person acting on us with anger or disrespect is also suffering.

We may discover that the unhappiness in the other has nothing to do with us but everything to do with themselves. Why would a happy and contented person behave rudely or selfishly if s/he knew how to make themselves happy? With this discovery, we may learn to be more forgiving towards others and to show more care, or to just let it be and not deepen potential conflicts.

If we look even deeper, we may find that our understanding of how to be peaceful with ourselves determines our relationship with others.

If we aren’t content or peaceful, it is hard for us to behave in a relaxed and tranquil way with others. When the conflict in ourselves is attenuated, the burden within gets lifted little by little and we become happier and instead influence others with our tranquillity.


Wise Steps:

  • Find out if it is true that you are constantly acted upon by outer conditions through observation. When you are out walking during a hot day, do you react to the heat with thoughts? When your boss is talking to your teammate, do you start wondering what they are talking about without your knowledge?
  • What do you do when you notice critical thoughts about yourself arising in your mind? Do you act upon it with more criticism or with forgiveness?
  • Take the opportunity to test the Buddha’s teachings on hate is never appeased by hate but only by love. When someone brings his or her suffering onto you, try to respond with love and see what happens.

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