The history of humanity is scarred with torment and pain.
Suffering is an everyday component of our lives. In our efforts to eradicate the alleged causes of it, such as disease and illness, we have managed to conjure magical medicines and develop tremendous scientific techniques.
In our efforts to accrue greater happiness and freedom, we have managed to build marvelous machines and invent terrific technology.
We have tried in many ways to increase pleasure and limit pain, all to no avail. Hunger and famine are rife throughout the world. Wars and torture continue unabated. Women are still physically, emotionally and sexually abused. Children die in the thousands every day from preventable illnesses and lack of potable water.
Mental illness, alcoholism and drug addiction are at pandemic proportions. Due to the over-exploitation of the planet’s resources, the rainforests are dwindling at an alarming rate and the oceans’ fish stocks are threatened with extinction.
Our efforts to build a better world, one in which every man, woman and child can live in peace and harmony, where everyone has equal rights, has shelter from the elements and food to share, have been a failure.
Thankfully, this is not necessarily the whole truth. It may seem as if what we have is as good as it gets, but there is a path that will lead us out of the mess we have created.
Although it must be said, the path is not an easy one. It is certainly no quick-fix solution, nor is it pleasant or trouble-free. In fact, to the majority, it will be repugnant. But it is, as it has always been, our only hope.
Like any disease or illness, two requirements must be fulfilled before a cure for humanity’s suffering is even considered a possibility. Firstly, the presence of the illness or disease must be correctly identified and completely accepted before it can be treated: the acknowledgment of suffering is a prerequisite to its cure. Secondly, there must exist the will to eradicate it.
I know of a high-flying friend in the corporate world who refuses to accept the notion that he is suffering. In quiet moments, Peter readily admits to continuing bouts of depression, loneliness, and fatigue, but will then claim that these symptoms are nothing in comparison to the “real” suffering experienced by those living in the Third World.
It is as if the acknowledgment of suffering is a weakness, and weakness is not something the corporate world looks kindly upon. His ego will not even allow him to consider the possibility that mental torment is as valid as physical torture in regards to suffering. Consequently, his attitude of, “Everything’s all right. There’s nothing wrong with me,” leads to the delay of his healing and prolongation of his symptoms. Denial for Peter, like so many others, merely perpetuates the problem.
The second requirement for healing humanity’s problems is desire and intent, or will. Once the presence of suffering has been fully acknowledged, the next step is to develop the will to do something about it.
In the Buddhist tradition, the desire to end human suffering is called compassion and the desire for others to find happiness is called loving-kindness. It is, in fact, no surprise that will is the beating heart of compassion and loving-kindness. Will opens up pathways that were previously hidden. If there is no desire or intent to change our beliefs or points of views, if there is no will to seek beyond the horizon, we won’t even look for alternative paths or routes to lead us out of our suffering.
“Where there’s a will, there’s a way,” as the saying goes.
Taking a medical point of view, a sick patient must develop the will to improve his or her state of health before healing can begin: a patient must want to get better.
This includes agreeing to the type and course of treatment and any other procedures identified by the health professionals, what is known as compliance. Wanting to get better may sound like plain common sense, but it is surprising the number of patients that have a vested interest in remaining unwell and that secretly harbor abhorrence of any treatment that might actually improve their condition.
Pain and suffering to some, is beneficial. It can provide much-needed attention for the lonely. It can provide a sense of bitter joy to those with a masochistic personality, to those that know happiness only through wallowing in misery. Most of all, it can provide a sense of identity, or more precisely, a sense of victim identity to those with a highly developed blame personality.
I know of a man with a particular narcissistic bent who likes nothing more than to regale his guests and fellow bus commuters with stories of malpractice and outrageous indecencies perpetrated by the medical or legal profession. He has become bitter with age, but the last thing he wants is to get better and end his suffering. He has invested so much of himself in his pain that to become pain-free would, in effect, be a loss of identity and that, to him, would be like dying.
In finding a cure (do we dare yet call it salvation?) for the suffering on our planet, therefore, we must identify and acknowledge what the problem facing humanity actually is and then we, as a collective whole, must want to do something about it. We cannot afford to live in denial of our problems, nor can we afford to have a vested interest in maintaining our suffering.
The fate of humanity and the planet is at stake.
*This article is an excerpt from Dr. Scott Zarcinas’ book, Your Natural State of Being.