“Life is suffering” – the Buddha
“The men who learn endurance, are they who call the whole world, brother” – Charles Dickens
“Persistence and endurance will make you omnipotent” – Casey Neistat
The ability to endure is a critical one. Why is that? Well, because life will always through stumbling blocks in your way. There will always be a bigger mountaintop to crest for every success achieved, and for every time you stumble there is a path of least resistance that one can readily roll down.
One of the famous teachings of the Buddha is “life is suffering”. Now as per many such religious quotes, the potential for a quick glance to lead to effortless misconstruing is far too easy. To the readily unthinking, the above quote means simply everything is meaningless, so why the hell should I care about anything? If all I am destined to do is suffer?! That’s just not fair.
But this is not a satisfactorily deep analysis of this quote. The antonym of happiness is not sadness, but suffering. As a result, it is a base instinct of all creatures to run from pain and run towards pleasure. Yet the dangers of the hedonic treadmill are more than evident, if left to run amok. If there was no such thing as pain, would pleasure not be worthless? As we would have nothing to compare it to. If there is only pleasure, then pleasure does not exist.
As a result, suffering is a constant and everlasting requirement in human beings. It is our limitation, our driver and our motivation for change. An ancient Hebrew analysis of the Torah, in effect a riddle and proverb) asks the question “If God is omnipotent (all-powerful), omniscient (all-seeing) and omnipresent (everywhere at once), what does he lack?” and the answer is “Limitation”. And the meaning of this to us as finite human beings is boundless. We are not, and will never be, infinite. We have a limited lifespan on this planet and when it is gone, it is gone, and the candle is extinguished. If everything was instantly achievable, there would be no success, and nothing to strive for. The journey of life would not exist.
And as a result, we must endure. As Casey Neistat says in one of his vlogs, “persistence and endurance will make you omnipotent”. The ability to endure is a finite being’s superpower. It allows suffering to become a weapon, and neither downward spiral into pain or into too much pleasure can be permitted.
This weekend I have taken part in a 24-hour jiu-jitsu event, the Artemis BJJ 2018 Tap Cancer Out Grapplethon (for anyone feeling loving, here is a link to my fundraising page.) The event was amazing fun, a great learning experience and an absolute physical and mental battering. Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu is a contact sport, and an intensely mentally-challenging one to boot as it requires constant chess-like thinking against an active opponent seeking to do the exact same thing to you as you are to them; to take positional control and then submit them.
The nature of the event was for an entire 24 hour period, at least two people must be constantly in action. A gentleman from Stockton, a group of about 10 from a Welsh gym and myself maintained the action from about 2200 til approximately 0700 when we gained some reinforcements from locals returning to join us for the morning.
The point of this aside is the emphasis on endurance. The human will to voluntarily embrace discomfort is greater than we choose to believe. One of Seneca’s Letters to Lucilius (Letter 18, to be specific) read as follows,
I am so firmly determined, however, to test the constancy of your mind that, drawing from the teachings of great men, I shall give you also a lesson: Set aside a certain number of days, during which you shall be content with the scantiest and cheapest fare, with coarse and rough dress, saying to yourself the while: “Is this the condition that I feared?”
This is now considered one of the founding Stoic principles – testing one’s mettle, one’s endurance. Preparing the self for the inevitable hardships that life’s impermanence and constant changeability that will come to bear on you, whether you like it or not, whether you deserve it or not.
Below is an extract from Kierkegaard’s writings, a publication entitled ‘Concluding Unscientific Postscript’ (1846):
For when all combine in every way to make everything easier and easier, the remains only one possible danger, namely, that the easiness might become so great that it would be too great; then only one want is left, though not yet a felt want – that people will want difficulty.”
If not yet already upon us, the time will very soon come to bear when the people as a whole will crave more difficulty, be it physical or mental. Challenge is what allows there to be a mountain in front of us at all. If we are not growing, we are stagnating. Cultivate your ability to endure, as I have no doubt it will serve you well in the tumultuous times ahead.