what if suffering doesn't make you a saint?

Today we ask that you question your beliefs about the merits of suffering.

This is very difficult for most people.  Though no one consciously likes to suffer, most people believe on some level that suffering is virtuous, and that it enhances one’s character.  One has greater respect for those who nobly endure suffering, as opposed to someone who appears to be “lucky” in life.  

To question these beliefs may be perceived as threatening, and even immoral.  

But what if it isn’t true?

What if the veneration of human suffering is merely a holdover from a “cave man” pattern of behavior, hard-wired into a very old part of the human brain?  

When humans were “cave men,” that is to say primitive hunter-gatherers, a high pain endurance was a useful survival strategy.  Men with a high pain endurance made better hunters.  Women past puberty were continuously pregnant and birthing children, ensuring genetic survival.  It was an utterly miserable existence in many ways, but from a Darwinian standpoint, it “worked.”  Of course, few people lived past their mid-thirties.  

That is why the virtues of pain and suffering are hard-wired into the human brain.  “No pain, no gain.”

But what if this isn’t true?

It is true that humans require a measure of healthy challenge and going outside “comfort zones” in order to flourish in life.  But this does not require pain, suffering, and misery.  Humans have the capacity to experience change and healthy challenges in life with immense joy.  

Your beliefs define your existence, and shape your reality.  If you believe on any level that your self-worth is proportional to your suffering, then you will suffer.  You would not know who you are without suffering.  Your identity depends on it.

Most people do not like to suffer, but their self-image is deeply tied to it.  Many people even believe that God loves them more when they suffer, and that their suffering paves the way to Heaven.  

Really, it is just the old cave man part of the brain that perpetuates this.  Unless you plan to hunt mammoths or birth fifteen babies, maybe you should not listen to this old part of the brain.  Maybe it is time to evolve out of this.  

What if you believed that joy was your birthright?  What if you’d been brought up believing this, and had been taught to actively cultivate states of joy and well-being?

Notice any resistance you feel around this.  Does believing that joy is your birthright sound selfish, or naive?

And yet when a human expands into the state some call “enlightenment,” a deep, unshakeable joy is precisely what they experience.  It is the end to suffering, right here on Earth.  It is not dependent in any way on external circumstances; it is a state of mind.  And it is possible, because it happens.  

What if joy is available to you, even now, regardless of what appears to be happening in external reality?

The belief in the virtue of suffering will block any experience of joy.  How could it not?  Lasting joy and virtuous suffering cannot coexist in one’s consciousness.

So you must ask yourself:

Do I want to experience joy?

Or do I want to hold on to my belief in virtuous suffering, my victim identity, and my self-righteous pain?

You can have one, or the other.

But not both.