suffering can be transformed

#59 – no mud, no lotus: the art of transforming suffering by thich nhat hanh

two thoughts inform my mind on suffering.

The Murakami: “Pain is inevitable. Suffering is optional.”

The Stoics: “you don’t control what happens to you in life, you only control how you respond”.

and through this week’s book, i have a third one:

Suffering can be transformed.

to live well, we must suffer well.

what does it mean to suffer well?

but first, allow me to say this:

i am no expert on suffering and do not mean to lecture you on suffering less. i write as always for myself and hope my readers find that valuable.

Thich Nhat Hanh:

If you can recognize and accept your pain without running away from it, you will discover that although pain is there, joy can also be there at the same time.

1. Accept the pain

2. Not run away

3. Finding joy and letting it live with the pain

these can be easy for some and seemingly impossible for others. i’m afraid i have no advice for the latter, except to say that acceptance is key. i hope, however, that this quotation spark some soul-searching and allow some to practice these actions with small miseries as a start.

i desire to suffer well and thinking about suffering as something that can be transformed has been useful.

there are 2 kinds of sufferings, significant ( e.g. death of a loved one) and insignificant (e.g. you were scolded for something you did not do).

it is worthwhile to:

1. think deeply about what would make you suffer and

2. to develop strategies on how to suffer well should these circumstances occur.

Significant Suffering

for me, these would cause me significant suffering:

1. my mother’s death

2. milou’s (my dog) death

3. a chronic or significant illness

4. disability

while these are things we have no control over, how we prepare for them is important.

my dad died of cancer in 2001. we were never close. in the last months of his life, i was able to spend a lot more time with him, bringing him to hospital and taking care of his needs. this brought me some comfort.

the best way to deal with the imminent deaths of our loved ones is to love them while they are alive.

to make the time you spend with them count.

to “prepare” for a possible illness or disability, one could buy insurance coverage and read biographies of disabled people.

think of suffering as an energy (this is more about utility than accuracy) and how it can be channeled into positive actions we can do now to mitigate the pain that will come.

Insignificant Suffering

i have also thought deeply about insignificant suffering and the people who make me suffer on a daily basis

1. selfish people who walk side by side on a narrow path or escalator and block the people who want to overtake them

2. selfish people who walk side by side on a narrow path without giving space to people walking in the opposite direction

3. cyclists and users of personal mobility devices riding recklessly on footpaths

4. political animals in the workplace

5. people who spread misinformation on Facebook

6. colleagues who do not thank you after you helped them

there is a longer list.

i get angrily easily and it spoils my day.

thinking about suffering and how it can be transformed, i have come up with a new idea.

this is what i will think when someone makes me suffer:

this person is doing this because he doesn’t have air-conditioning.

you see, air-conditioning is important to me and just thinking about it makes me happy.

so i can understand how someone without air-conditioning can be miserable and do horrible things.

does this sound crazy? yes. but i need something crazy and ridiculous to transform all that insignificant suffering into positive energy.

does it work? i don’t know as i just came up with the idea.

i hope you find your own ideas on how to transform suffering.


Mark Zuckerberg inspired me to start an annual personal project – read a non-fiction book every week and write about it. 

My previous newsletters are here: https://isaiahlim.wordpress.com/category/isaiahlim_newsletter/

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