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Sunday, June 12, 2011

Difficulty and Suffering

I was asked a few days ago if difficulty and suffering were to be considered as the same side of a coin. I've come to think of suffering as necessary for evolution, or to become a better person. Too, difficult times seem to give me grist for my stories whereas the good times are fleeting and hardly worth mentioning. If there was no suffering, there would be no need to improve one's lot in life, no need to be creative in the face of peril and danger. There would be no progress.

And make no mistake: We invent, create, and risk failure, all in the name of progress. Those who risk the most define the world as we know it... as our children and grandchildren will know it. After all, the world is given to us by those who came before us, by those who risked their lives and fortunes, often on gut instinct and intuition. We are here but a short while yet we are the art that creates the world around us. As Robert Pirsig says in Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, our self is the motorcycle we are working on.

Someone once told me that life is like a hot dog; we love the final product but we don't care to be reminded what goes into it. The suffering and difficulties we encounter along life's path tend to make us better people in the long run, but it isn't something we relish, those hard times. The Buddhists claim life is suffering; often times it appears to me they are right.

I sometimes suppose that the creation of art is the meaning of my life. And it seems my best art, my best writings, arise during the darkest times, when I am full of despair, longing for a normal everyday life that I see others around me enjoying. As Willie Nelson once claimed, you can't write the blues from the back of a Cadillac.

Difficulty and suffering... are they the same? I tend to think of today's difficulty as a remix of yesterday's suffering. Facing up to suffering is what brings on the difficult times... working our way through the rejection, the hunger, the death of our dreams. If we want to get to the other side, though, there is no choice but to fight through it.

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