Suffering Is Optional

Difficulty, challenge and struggle are very much part of the fabric of our life experience.

Existence itself is composed of an ebb and flow. There is a constant push and pull in life, caused by the fact that the world is based on polarity. There is a dualism that clearly underlies creation. There are continual ups and downs, twists and turns in the process of living life, because the tension produced by dualism is what constitutes the very energy that keeps things moving.

There is expansion and there is contraction. There is growth and there is decay. There is strength and there is weakness. Everything in life is a duality. That is how creation is structured. Light and dark both follow each other and contend with one another as well. So does effort and rest, happiness and sadness, success and disappointment; everything that exists in the world.

Therefore, whenever there is movement there is also resistance. Friction and obstruction are simply part of the process of development. They are not aberrations. They are not errors. They are not the enemy. Struggling with difficulty and subsequently having to endure hard times is vital to the process of living life. It is the prerequisite to growth. Suffering, however, is absolutely not.

Suffering is a negative response to difficult circumstances. It is not the substance of what we are going through. It is the modality by which we handling it. When we are suffering from something physically, if we emotionally identify with the illness or injury we create suffering. The pain and the malfunction or disability we are experiencing are the symptoms and the effects of a difficulty the body is experiencing. Often, the pain and discomfort are actually part of the healing process.

In a similar manner, psychologically, if external circumstances in one’s life become very difficult and constrictive, one is out of work, a relationship is strained, one has experienced a serious loss, etc. pain and anguish will emerge as a natural part of the accompanying emotional process. That is normal.

However, if we react to the pain, be it physical or psycho-emotional by identifying with it, by becoming upset, frustrated or resentful, we are creating suffering for ourselves. Our approach is manufacturing an element that does not have to exist in the experience. Suffering is not a natural part of the process of coming to terms with difficult situations. It is a choice being made in the way the reality being faced is approached and handled.

Suffering is pain inducing, but not the pain itself. Nor is it the malady per se. Rather, suffering is a reactive mode that is negatively identifying with the problem. Difficult circumstances and the pain they generate are part of the contractive side of nature and central to human experience. Suffering, however, is an add-on and often an unconscious default position.

It’s one thing to say you are sick. It is quite another to say that you are dealing with working through an illness. There is a big difference between these views. In the first instance, you are not making a distinction between you and your circumstances. The distinction between you and what you are going through has been blurred or obscured.

By identifying with the difficult circumstances you are facing, you are bringing about emotional distress. That is suffering and it is unnecessary.

There is another route to take. You can remain calm, centered and simply keep in mind that what is happening to you is merely something you are going through. It will not last forever. It is your circumstances and your condition at the moment. It is absolutely not you per se. You will exist long after all your current situation is gone.

In taking a non-reactive approach, suffering does not show up. How is this so?

In Kabbalah, the right and left pillars of the Tree of Life are the forces of expansion and contraction. The right pillar is drive, excitement and experience. The left pillar is that of taking in, processing and assimilating. There is a push-pull reality that is a primal element in their relationship. The energy of creativity and development is generated by their interaction. Through this pulsation of energy, everything is given life, meaning and definition. In other words, the entire learning process is based on the tension between our experience of expansiveness and restriction.

The way the Kabbalah sees it, difficulty and challenge are the natural result of the friction, the push-pull of how life is set up. It is critical for our growth and development. Suffering, however, is an imbalance that upsets the system and weighs us down. It is a burden to the experience of life, not an essential element.

Negative emotions, such as anger, fear, grief, regret etc. in their natural state serve enormously important psychological functions. However, if we indulge in holding and dwelling on them, they devolve into dark emotions which are forms of suffering.  This type of suffering would include forms such as desperation and despair, rage and recrimination, confusion and doubt, guilt and humiliation, fear and paralysis, just to name a few.

The Kabbalah sees suffering as excessive emotional fixation. That is, suffering is understood as one being too focused on a set of difficulties. When that happens, one’s perspective is lost in a vortex of intensifying emotion. The difficulty being faced becomes the center of one’s emotional life. The effect of which causes one’s experience to become constricted, heavy and subsequently painful. The sense of feeling trapped, helpless and overwhelmed is the result.

From the Kabbalist perspective there is a way to transmute this reality. What the Kabbalah teaches is that any energy has different ways it can manifest. All energy is subject to the laws of polarity, differentiation and balance. Generally, energy can be  formed initially into any of a number of diverse expressions and any specific energy that is already defined can be reshaped and redirected.

In other words, any emotional reality one is working with can be refocused and then re-manifest itself in an alternate form.  For example, fear can be transformed into determination. Anger can be reconstituted into courage and fortitude. Grief can be reformatted into acceptance. There are a lot of possible permutations.

Energy per se is neutral. It is our intention that gives energy a shape and a specific, discreet reality. How we approach something is what it will be or what it will become. We must be very aware of how we are holding any given situation emotionally. Do we want to hold on to hurt and remain angry or are we willing to forgive, to release and become compassionate? If one holds anger, there is suffering. If one transforms the hurt to understanding, compassion emerges. Then, there is no suffering. Suffering does not exist within the realm of compassion.

It is very important to remember that energy is malleable. It can manifest in multiple ways. The process of living our lives, by its very nature, constantly presents us with challenges of different magnitudes.

There are two alternatives to life’s difficulties. If we regard life’s issues as burdens, obstructions and impositions, we will endure suffering. If on the other hand, we can handle challenges no matter how difficult as tasks, responsibilities and opportunities, then life opens up to us as an amazing vista for experience, growth and learning. The choice is ours. The energy is the same. It is the suffering that is optional.

Rabbi Steven Fisdel

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