Problems and Pain

heathershappiness

“Life is difficult.

This is a great truth, one of the greatest truths.  It is a great truth because once we truly see this truth, we transcend it.  Once we truly know that life is difficult – once we truly understand it and accept it – then life is no longer difficult.  Because once it is accepted, the fact that life is difficult no longer matters.

Most do not fully see this truth that life is difficult.  Instead they moan more or less incessantly, noisily or subtly, about the enormity of their problems, their burdens, and their difficulties as if life were generally easy, as if life should be easy.  They voice their belief, noisily or subtly, that their difficulties represent a unique kind of affliction that should not be and that has somehow been especially visited upon them, or else upone their families, their tribe, their class, their nation, their race or even their species, and not upon others.  I know about this moaning because I have done my share.

Life is a series of problems.  Do we want to moan about them or solve them?  Do we want to teach our children to solve them?

Discipline is the basic set of tools we require to solve life’s problems.  Without discipline we can solve nothing.  With only some discipline we can solve only some problems.  With total discipline we can solve all problems.

What makes life difficult is that the process of confronting and solving problems is a painful one.  Problems, depending upon their nature, evoke in us frustration or grief or sadness or loneliness or guilt or regret or anger or fear or anxiety or anguish or despair.  These are uncomfortable feelings, often very uncomfortable, often as painful as any kind of physical pain.  Indeed, it is because of the pain that events or conflicts engender in us that we call them problems.  And since life poses an endless series of problems, life is always difficult and is full of pain as well as joy.

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Yet it is in this whole process of meeting and solving problems that life has its meaning.

Problems are the cutting edge that distinguishes between success and failure.  Problems call forth our courage and our wisdom; indeed, they create our courage and our wisdom.  It is only because of problems that we grow mentally and spiritually.  

When we desire to encourage the growth of the human spirit, we challenge and encourage the human capacity to solve problems, just as in school we deliberately set problems for our children to solve.  It is through the pain of confronting and reolving problems that we learn.  As Benjamin Franklin said, “Those things that hurt, instruct.”  It is for this reason that wise people learn not to dread but actually to welcome problems and actually to welcome the pain of problems.

Most of us are not so wise.  Fearing the pain involved, almost all of us, to a greater or lesser degree, attempt to avoid problems.  We procrastinate, hoping that they will go away.  We ignore them, forget them, pretend they do not exist.  We even take drugs to assist us in ignoring them, so that by deadening ourselves to the pain we can forget the problems that cause the pain.  We attempt to skirt around problems rather than meet them head on.

We attempt to get out of them rather than suffer through them.

This tendency to avoid problems and the emotional suffering inherent in them is the primary basis of all human mental illness.  Since most of us have this tendency to a greater or lesser degree, most of us are mentally ill to a greater or lesser degree, lacking complete mental health.  Some of us will go to quite extraordinary lengths to avoid our problems and the suffering they cause, proceeding far afield from all that is clearly good and sensible in order to try to find an easy way out, building the most elaborate fantasies in which to live, sometimes to the total exclusion of reality.  In the succinctly elegant words of Carl Jung, “Neurosis is always a substitute for legitimate suffering.”

But the substitute itself becomes more painful than the legitimate suffering it was designed to avoid.  The neurosis itself become the biggest problem.  True to form, many will then attempt to avoid this pain and this problem in turn, building layer upon layer of neurosis.  Fortunately, however, some possess the courage to face their neuroses and begin – usually with the help of psychotherapy – to learn how to experience legitimate suffering. In any case, when we avoid the legitimate suffering that results from dealing with problems, we also avoid the growth that problems demand from us.  It is for this reason that in chronic mental illness we stop growing, we become stuck.  And without healing, the human spirit begins to shrivel.”

from The Road Less Traveled, by M. Scott Peck, M.D.

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