“The truth that many people never understand, until it is too late, is that the more you try to avoid suffering the more you suffer because smaller and more insignificant things begin to torture you in proportion to your fear of being hurt” – Thomas Merton

 

Of late I have noticed that we all have an unbelievable capacity to aversion. What we are adverse to is usually that which causes us trouble. This is no surprise of course.  Suffering is not something anyone dearly looks forward to. However, the truth that is so well articulated by Thomas Merton remains. Suffering is a part of the human condition. Into all of our lives falls some suffering. How do we respond to it?

It is noticeable that the present climate of our world is one that elevates an image of ‘the perfect’ life. This leads to a sense of overt frustration and self pity when things do not ‘go our way.’ There is a propensity to look at a day, or a week, a few months or year and wish it had not been.  There are some questions that we should perhaps be asking ourselves.  How are we being attentive to what we are feeling when we are in the midst of our struggles? What do we notice about ourselves, our reactions our aversions or our apprehensions? Are we able to articulate what is happening within ourselves when we struggle or suffer? How are we relating to those around us when we are suffering? How does another’s suffering impact us? If we cannot take time, in the midst of suffering, to ask these sorts of questions we will go immediately to aversion. And yes, Merton is right, smaller things will absorb our attention and smaller things will torture us.

Life cannot be without suffering, pain, and loss. But life is not all that. As much as we need to be very aware of what his happening within ourselves when we are in great joy or celebration, we must also become very aware of what is happening in our times of struggle. We should not live entirely in one place or in the other. In the same breath, we should not run away from those places either. We should not be so quick to run away from suffering, or avoid what is happening in the midst of it. So instead of wishing away time and experience, let us think about entering into our experiences. It is hard work to say the least, but it is work that will allow for a sense of enlightened response to what is happening in the midst of even the most difficult of situations.