Sunday, October 10, 2010

Why We Suffer

"The most beautiful stones have been tossed by the wind,

washed by the water and polished to brilliance by life's strongest storms."

I'm apparently the "advice guy" on my wing. For some reason, I'm a magnet for other inmates who have problems they want solved and questions they want answered. It's probably because I look so stereotypically smart: I got the glasses and my nose is always in a book. Plus, I don't talk too much, which I'm sure makes me seem wise or something: who knows. I'm really not that smart. I'm in prison after all. However, I read a lot, and that makes me the proverbial one eyed man in the kingdom of the blind. But I also like to think that my advice is actually pretty good; and word gets around. For the most part, once we address their specific issue, this is what I tell them all – this is what I've learned for myself to be true.

Believe it or not, we are not here on earth to be happy. Happiness isn't some God-given right or entitlement. Instead, our mission – individually and collectively – is to learn and grow through experience. We tend to learn the most by making mistakes, and we tend to grow the most by suffering or struggling in some way. Everyone makes mistakes, and as long as we learn from each other and try not to repeat them, we needn't feel guilty or ashamed or beat ourselves up about it. And every life includes suffering; it's how we let it affect us, how we react to it and eventually overcome it that makes the difference. The mark of the distinctive life is the ability to keep picking yourself up after setbacks and finishing your life strong.

Whatever problems you may have (and this is going to sound crazy), be grateful for them, because they're forcing you to learn and grow and become better than you were before. As much as your life might suck at the moment, take a look at your situation objectively – like as an outside observer – and try to find the challenges it holds for you: not the obvious ones, like "pay the rent" when you're broke or "find a mate" when you're alone, but the deeper more personal challenges dealing with your character, like having the courage to persevere in the face of hardship, or acting with integrity when it is easier not to, or admitting that you have a problem and need help, or having the strength of will to change. How are your current problems forcing you to become a better person? How can you use them to improve your character? What lessons are they teaching you? After analyzing the situation as an outside observer, what advice would you give yourself?

Remember this: to suffer is to experience. If you've never experienced pain or loss, if you've never had any problems or made any mistakes of your own, you can't relate to anyone who has. In order to help someone who is suffering you must be able to empathize with them and understand where they're coming from. Also, if you never have any obstacles to overcome, you can't grow spiritually. No one has ever attained enlightenment during the course of an easy, comfortable life. To suffer is to experience life, and the more we experience in life the better as far as our souls are concerned. Our souls, or "higher Selves" – don't care so much about being happy as growing spiritually; and they have no problem with earthly suffering, because they know it's only temporary and for good reason and part of the role they chose to play this time around. Our suffering on Earth has real purpose and meaning for our troubled souls. It may be hard to figure out sometimes, but by just accepting the challenge to suffer bravely your life has meaning up to the last moment.

However were not intended to suffer just for suffering sake: we learn and grow the most by overcoming our suffering, by making the most of it and not letting it affect us negatively. It's not only possible to accept hardships. We need to actually embrace them, and transform them into something positive. One of example of this might be overcoming alcoholism/addiction and then using that experience to help others do the same; another could be surviving a childhood of malnutrition and starvation and then working to end hunger as an adult; or maybe you have been unjustly sentenced to life in prison, but instead of just giving up you decide to go on living and somehow be a source of inspiration and encouragement to your fellow prisoners; the various examples are and less. Once were able to move beyond our current struggles, we are ready for the next set of challenges. Of course, this is not easy and it's not supposed to be. The process is different for everyone; no one can tell another how to overcome their own unique suffering nor what its ultimate purpose may be; each person must find out for themselves and accept the responsibility that comes with it.

Then again, some people do seem to lead charmed lives where all is well and nothing ever seems to go wrong: there happy and fulfilled. This is true for many people around the world. In some cases they've earned these carefree lives by enduring many others of suffering and by progressing spiritually, and we can't begrudge them this. Karma, or the universal law of cause and effect, is real, and we really do " reap what we sow" in this and all of our lives on Earth. But in most cases, however, appearances are deceiving, and the seemingly blessed lives other people lead aren't all they're cracked up to be. Everyone has problems, and even the most fortunate of us will experience troubles or tragedy at some point in our lives. Realize some of the most miserable people are the ones who seem to have it all, because they don't have what matters most: Love.

"May you have the courage to transform adversity and spiritual practice.

May adversity empower the cultivation of compassion."

Love conquers all, as they say. If your heart is filled with enough love and forgiveness, there's no amount of suffering that can bring you down; though it can be extremely difficult to feel any kind of love (especially for yourself) when you're suffering or experiencing the results of mistakes you've made (like the insanity of addiction). But there's a tried-and-true way to get some love in your life no matter what: it's important to understand – or just seriously consider – that who you really are is a divine, spiritual being having a special learning experience in this physical plane, using your physical body and mind as a vehicle. This is not mere theory or belief but a demonstrable fact that you can verify for yourself. (Check out my book list at". As a " divine adventurer" you are expected to screw up once in a while. While you are here in order to learn and grow from it from experience and because you're innocent and pure as an ultimately spiritual being, there should be no place for guilt or shame or self-hatred in your life – regret and remorse, yes, definitely but nothing more. Realizing this and taking it to heart allows you to forgive yourself and to love yourself. An understanding that we are all really spiritual beings underneath it all – that the ass hole who just cut you off in traffic is also "child of God" – makes it that much easier to forgive them and others as well. To understand why you are here on earth is to better understand your suffering – to forgive it – to love your life regardless of how difficult it may be.

Another way to overcome suffering is to put the focus on other people rather than yourself. Caring for others gives you purpose and meaning it helps you feel better about your life. There may be many people who are experiencing the same struggles as yourself and would appreciate your understanding and insight. And no matter how bad we think we may have it, someone else has got worse – often much more so. For example, if your set upset about having no shoes, think of the person who has no feet. I may be in prison with a ridiculously excessive sentence, but I have the support of family and friends out there, whereas many other prisoners have no one; they feel totally rejected, forgotten and unloved. Also, although I'm locked in a cage, I'm still relatively well fed and have the luxury of meditating and studying every day, while many people in the free world are out of work and struggling each day to put food on the table.

Still another way to ease your suffering is to think about all the good things in your life. You may be broke but you have got your health; you may not have your health but you have the love of a good woman; you may not have a girlfriend, but you've got the best dog in the whole world – you get the idea. But it doesn't really help unless you feel genuine gratitude for those things. Being able to stay positive despite the problems will be one of the most difficult things you can do and the most gratifying; it's a huge lesson for each of us. It helps to understand that quote "like attracts like quote" and that a positive, optimistic attitude really does help to bring better things your way, especially the right people.

Speaking of which a great way to put an end to your troubles is to get help from someone else. If you only knew just how many people there are out there – everywhere, in every place no matter how small – who want to help you and are only waiting for you to reach out, you wouldn't hesitate for a moment. These people are so goodhearted and compassionate and sincerely nonjudgmental that it would just blow your mind. They live to be of service, and you'd be doing them a huge favor by letting them help you: it gives them purpose and meaning in their lives, is extremely rewarding, and it allows them to express their love – forgot, for mankind, for life – in a productive way. For instance, any of you who happen to take my advice in order to beat addiction and depression would be making me super happy because I know that my efforts have done some good in that I'm able to make a difference from this prison cell. I think we should all aspire to be someone who really enjoys and makes an effort to help others. But it's important sometimes to first get the help we need to be better able to do that. And we can't be afraid or too proud to ask for it. I encourage anyone who lets their pride get in the way, as I once did, to humble themselves, admit their problems and weaknesses to a loved one or caring stranger, because, in the end, it's only going to make you a much stronger and better person.

Finally, we should not be afraid to ask for spiritual help as well. Just because we can't see them doesn't mean that Angels and other beneficial spirits aren't real. There has real as you are I, only not limited by this physical plane. Like so many caring souls on earth, they too want to help and be of service. But we have to sincerely ask for Their assistance because a great deal of importance is placed on "free will" and making an effort to solve our problems ourselves. Results may not be obvious right away, but "ask and ye shall receive". Guaranteed. Of course, a new-car or chest of gold will not just magically appear, but you will be aided in numerous ways you may never have even considered before if you have faith in the outcome and in "them". Ask God, the Angels and the Forces of Light and Love, whom ever "up there" you'd like – but definitely ask. And for all you skeptics out there: I used to think the same as you and needed scientific proof of such things. Well, I got it, and you can to. Again, I highly suggest devouring my "required" reading list at Regardless, it certainly doesn't hurt to try, right?

Anyway, so these are my words of wisdom for all those with the "the ears to hear and the eyes to see". From one fellow student in Earth school to another. I merely point the way that I myself am going. I'm dealing with my own suffering as well as I know how, and I wish you the best with yours. Be strong.

Thanks for listening and caring. Bye for now.

– Eric