What Is Suffering? Why Psychotherapy? (part 2)

Death is a classic and frequent topic of art and philosophy. Why? Because it is the most easily recognized universal human suffering. All humans die. Everyone who is born will die and this includes you.

But, unless you commit suicide, the time and manner of your death are completely unknown to you. The impermanence of life, that fact that death can come at any time and in any way, is the frequent source of existential crisis in humans. Some people die in the womb, some die when they are children, some die as teenagers and young adults, some die when they are middle aged, and some die when they are elderly. According to the World Health Organization, over 200,000 people will die this very day all across the planet. Some will be the victims of crime, some will die in car and industrial accidents, some will die in war and some will die of natural causes (illness, old age, etc).

We are all met with unfortunate circumstances beyond our control. For instance, have you ever lost a job that you really liked or loved someone who ended up betraying or leaving you? Did you ever love someone who died or have you ever picked up the phone to hear that a loved one had been diagnosed with a serious illness? These are unfortunate circumstances that you did not want, did not ask for, but still they occurred. In other words, despite that fact that you did not want them, they happened anyway and there is absolutely nothing that you can do about it. You must somhow learn to live with the loss and go on.

Additionally, we are all separated from things that we want or desire. Over the years, some people I have helped wanted to be famous, some wanted to be rich, some wanted to be educated. And despite that fact that they wanted it, circumstances conspired in such a way that what they wanted eluded them. Some people just wanted to be physically healthy, some want to live in a politically stable country, some just want to find that one special person who they can love and who will love them in return. But despite all their efforts, what they desire and crave eludes them.

And lastly – all of life is impermanent. It is a strong desire in man to create a legacy, some notion of immortality or permanency in life. Some people feel they create this through their children, some through the work that they do and the contributions that they make. But ask yourself this question: in a hundred years, when you and everyone you ever knew is dead, who will remember you? Even the greatest kings, emperors and holy men are, for the most part, relegated to the history books. As mighty as the Roman Empire once was, it is now a series of ruins across the Mediterranean. The Earth is simply one planet, in one solar system in one galaxy – constantly in motion, always dynamic, moving from one moment of present time to the next. The universe itself is in motion, always moving, always shifting and fluxing and, as modern science is learning, our universe may just be one of many universes somehow intertwined and interdependent, one on another.

Modern psychotherapy teaches us to improve the quality of our lives not by suggesting that these sufferings are somehow avoidable, because they are not. Nor does it suggest that we are too special and this shouldn't be happening to us - we are not special. Psychotherapy teaches clients to make room for, make peace with, and make meaning from their sufferings. It teaches us to stop running and avoiding and denying and minimizing and blaming. It teaches us to own ourselves; it says that when we feel bad that doesn’t necessarily mean that anything is wrong – nothing necessarily needs to be “fixed.” Pain and despair are just as much a part of life as are joy and exuberance. And when we begin to see the nature of our consciousness, when we begin to tap into that nature, to work with our thoughts and emotions, then we begin to transcend living simply (and futilely) to avoid pain and we begin to live beyond life and death. Psychotherapy can be an amazing guide along that path.

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