To suffer or not to suffer

Should you live a life of suffering? I wonder if this is an obvious question for you. Is it obvious because you should or shouldn’t?

If you live a life of growth you will live a life of suffering. A life of growth is a life where ambition, effort, frustration, struggle are ever present. Whether your targets are worthy or unworthy is pointless. The short bursts of ecstasy when you achieve your targets don’t hide the fact that, once you get there, al life of growth will point somewhere else, somewhere higher. And effort and struggle will soon reach over to you.

Growth seems to be hardcoded in us. It’s up there in Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. Is that need for growth something divine? Or is it just the manifestation of our biology? An impulse implanted in us to maximise our chances of survival?

Does suffering elevate us or degrade us?

Dukkha is the Buddhist concept of suffering. It is associated with the feelings described above: craving for what we don’t have, craving for what we are not. We get trapped in an endless cycle of trying (samsara), which induces a never ending dukkha. The whole point of achieving Nirvana is precisely to let go of those feelings, stop the cycle of trying (which only makes you suffer), and reach a divine state of presence and, for a better word, connection. This is what the 4 noble truths are all about.

Christians, on the other side, will be more inclined to rely on suffering and growth to deserve Heaven. Sacrifice and suffering are so much ingrained in the core values, just as Christ life and death very explicitly teach us. We must carry our own crosses too to aspire to something else.

I’ve personally found Truth and Peace (capital letters) in both. But both are pointing in different directions. I know we all like to reconcile stuff and create a bigger truths that are inclusive of both. I’m not sure it is possible in this case.

Lacking the ability to make up my mind for something so fundamental leaves me at the mercy of chance and happenstance. It forces me to think through every situation I live and decide what should I do in each case. Worst of all, it takes from you a light in the horizon to guide you in the long run. It leaves me lost in an endless sea.

Perhaps this is my personal struggle. This is my suffering and my cross. But then again: should I let go or should I embrace the search?

I wonder if I’m alone in this existential riddle.

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Purpose

Do we have a purpose in life? That is a big question. It has two possible answers: yes or no, so it is not that complicated. The problem is it’s one of those questions you cannot think your way through. That’s what makes it interesting. It belongs to the realm of beliefs.

I haven’t met anyone with absolute clarity about her/his purpose in life. Or better said: I haven’t really talked in depth with anyone to get to know what they believe. But I should, and I will, because it is an obsessing topic for me.

What do I think… sorry, believe? I believe YES, we do have a purpose, but I despair because I don’t really know what mine is. I would bet this is the condition most of us share. We want to believe in purpose and meaning but struggle to find it. Is this your case too?

Under those circunstantes I’ve done a couple of things. First one: read a lot, hoping for a ray of inspiration to enlighten me. Perhaps the closest strike of illumination comes from this quote from Arthur C. Clarke that really spoke to me:

“A wise man once said that all human activity is a form of play. And the highest form of play is the search for Truth, Beauty and Love. What more is needed? Should there be a ‘meaning’ as well, that will be a bonus. If we waste time looking for life’s meaning, we may have no time to live — or to play.” — Arthur C. Clarke

There’s two messages here that I hold precious. First is the idea of Truth, Beauty and Love as the virtues we must aspire to. Truth, Beauty and Love have more meaning to me than any other list of virtues you may find out there (and there are A LOT.) If all I do in this life is come a little closer to the elusive Truth, craft something that brings Beauty to this world, and give it to others as an expression of Love, I’d be satisfied.

Admittedly, those ideas are pretty broad, but at least they give me a string to pull. And this is where the second idea in Clarke’s quote comes to play: that devoting yourself to find meaning is a sure way of wasting a lot of intellectual capacity. What should we do instead? MOVE!. Do what you love, do what triggers your curiosity, try everything that fascinates you. The key here is you have to act, not think, not talk, not even believe. Do.

Doing deserves its own post, because for the first time in human history, we inhabit a world that makes doing extraordinarily accessible but also infuriatingly frustrating. And that is a trade off that we must learn to navigate.

Meanwhile, do as Tim Urban suggests, which is probably the most accurate description of what finding life’s purpose is like:

”Say two people want to find the love of their life, Person A and Person B.

Person A never goes on dates, opting instead to sit alone debating in her head about who the exact kind of person is she will fall in love with. She scours online profiles, but never contacts anyone. Instead, her plan is to wait until she comes across the profile so perfect for her that she’ll know she’s found The One. Then and only then will she reach out to that person for a date.

Person B goes on a lot of dates, constantly meeting new people and keeping an open mind, because she knows she probably doesn’t know either herself or the type of match that makes sense for her as well as she thinks she does.

Who’s more likely to find the love of their life?”

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