28 January 2012

On Suffering and Selfishness

It used to really irritate me when I would be talking with a close friend of mine, unburdening my troubles and describing my stressors in agonizing detail, would listen and then respond with "well, so is everyone" or "so does everyone."  As if my pain and my frustrations were not unique and full of special significance!  Can you believe that?!

Which was the very point he was trying to make!  My pain isn't special.  My suffering isn't a Technicolor masterpiece that sets itself apart from the suffering of the rest of the world.  Every living thing in this world suffers.

"Whenever something negative happens to you, there is a deep lesson concealed within it." ~ Eckhart Tolle

When we experience something painfully traumatic or intensely stressful it is attractively easy to wallow in our own self pity.  I used to tell myself (and others), that my natural tendency to wallow in negative emotions was my way of "dealing" with problems as they arose.  In truth, that was my way to avoid both facing my problems and recognizing that they were often of a repetitive, self induced nature.

By focusing on ourselves and amplifying our sense of self-importance by exhibiting a "Poor Me!" attitude when negative situations or feelings arise we are not only digging ourselves into a harmful hole but we are missing the chance to increase our awareness and understanding.

The theme of suffering and the narcissistic attitude that can be nurtured when it is allowed to consume a person has been making a regular appearance popping in and out of my life recently.  It is astonishing how demanding people can be that we not only recognize their particular troubles but feed their unhealthy, selfish egos by agreeing that their pain is worse than everyone else's.  What they are going through is more important, more devastating, and is unparalleled in its complexity and enormity than anyone else's problems.  When you get to the simple root of the matter, it is the idea that they are very important people.  Their sense of self and ego is massive.  Self-centered is the word that comes to mind and it is quite literally the act of focusing intensely on what is inside oneself.  When we do this, it is very easy to lose sight of everything outside of oneself and then completely lose all sense of perspective.  People trapped in this mental attitude can be very difficult to interact with, like explaining the colours of a sunset to someone who is looking through a tiny pinhole and declares the sky to be orange and no other hue whatsoever.

Whether this is yet another lesson in patience for me or showing me what my retired mental patterns look like to someone outside of them (or a little of both), I am not sure.

I don't know if it is because of my having grown up in a prosperous, developed country that thinking of the suffering of others, so much of which is so much greater than my own, re-balances my perspective and helps me stay focused on moving forward instead of wallowing in disappointment and despair.  Perhaps that is me thinking that my own experience is somehow unique and I'm dead wrong (again)!  And while suffering is not something to be measured as greater or lesser, it is always good to be mindful of the suffering of those around us that we encounter in our daily lives.  As Plato said,

"Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle."

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