It may not always seem like it, but the path of joy does not lead away from suffering and adversity but through it. We experience more joy in the face of great adversity than when life seems easy and rather uneventful. In the same way, sadness can navigate you through difficulties and hardships but not around it. It’s impossible to avoid all suffering and adversity — and you shouldn’t want to (or life would be pretty boring), you just need to decide which path you want to take. It’s an alchemy of mind over matter and it’s not about finding joyfulness in spite of adversity, our mental calmness and serenity comes because of the adversity. We evolve the greatest through suffering.
For many instances, in order for us to grow in generosity of spirit, we must undergo, in some way or another, a diminishing frustration. Through these diminishing moments, we can refine our reactions. Our most natural response when someone comes at us, is to hit back. But if we refine our reactions, we would want to find out what it is that compelled this person to do what they did instead. We would put ourselves in the other’s shoes. It’s an axiom that generosity in spirit requires us to have setbacks in order to remove the dross. It seems to unfailingly require us to experience suffering and frustrations that try to stop us from moving in the direction we choose. They need to force us off-course in order for us to want to come back.
It’s like your muscles; if you want good muscle tone you work against it, offering it resistance to make it grow. If your diaphragm is frail, you can’t expand the volume of your chest just by sitting. You need to hike up mountains or run for miles daily. You need to go against your nature, in a way. Natural desire is to sit still but if you do that and be come a couch potato, it’s going to start to show. In the same why this is physically true, it’s true spiritually as well. We grow in kindness when our kindness is tested.
It’s normal to experience great difficulties but with the right way of thinking, these experiences can lead you to even greater inner-strength. Often times, we feel that suffering will engulf us or that the suffering will never end, but if we can realize that it, too, will pass, we can survive them more easily and appreciate what we can learn from them by finding the meaning in them. Then we can come out on the other side, not embittered, but ennobled.
“The depth of our suffering can also result in the height of our joy.”
Suffering also gives rise to compassion for all others who are suffering and, it’s because of these experiences that we learn to avoid actions that will bring additional suffering to others. It’s essential to realize that these things happen to all people, not just to us, and not because we’ve done anything wrong. Though suffering may initially shock us, it also causes our arrogance to fall away and the mindset left behind is the peace and acceptance we need to pass through the difficulties rather than let it overcome us.
There’s a famous story my father used to tell me as a child to help encourage me during times of adversity. It’s about a farmer whose horse runs away. His neighbors are quick to comment on his bad luck but the farmer responds that no one can know what is good and what is bad. When the horse comes back with a wild stallion, the neighbors are quick to comment, this time talking about the farmer’s good luck. Again, the farmer replies that no one can know what is good and what is bad. When the farmer’s son breaks his leg trying to tame the wild stallion, the neighbors are now certain of the farmer’s bad luck but again, the farmer says that no one knows. And then when war breaks out, all the able-bodied young men are conscripted into battle except the farmer’s son, who was spared because of his broken leg.
And so, like the farmer, we need to build tolerance and acceptance of our hardships to know that in time, they will pass, and that with these hardships also come great blessings of happiness and strength.
DAY 25. Love, Ro