"Most people are afraid of suffering. But suffering is a kind of mud to help the lotus flower grow. There cannot be a lotus flower without the mud." -Thich Nhat Hanh
Suffering is one of those big themes in everybody's life whose purpose, I see as I get older, is much more powerful and beautiful than many people ever investigate. It can make us (I know in the past it has made me) very blind, very self-indulgent, very attached to our emotions that produce the desire for control, antagonism, non-vulnerability, and coldness.
I think I've learned that we ultimately have two choices when we confront our own personal suffering: we can either look at and run away- maybe to something else, someone else, some distraction; or we can confront it, sit with it, inspect it, examine it- and maybe most transformative of all, we can find some reason for which we were put through it, some reason beyond 'to hurt us' or 'to ruin us.'
"Consider it pure joy, brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance. And perseverance must finish its work, so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything." -James 1:2-4
Matureness and completeness seem to come after some process that can often feel like refinement by fire: we hurt, we struggle; things happen to us in life that wreck us, leave us lost, leave us broken. But one thing I know is this: that everything good that will ultimately inform your character (not your 'success,' or your 'reputation,' which is how other people see you; but your character, who you are) will be directly related to how bravely, authentically, and honestly you faced your suffering.
If I'm honest, I waited a long time for art to come into my life. Not that I knew that's what I was waiting for. But through years of particular trials, emotional hardships, conditions into which I was born but, like anybody, didn't choose; and then after that, the honest, deep, difficult, confusing, emotional, spiritual, and psychological inspection of them; then, and only then, did the someone I can now happily call me emerge.
"You do not get to choose the events that come your way, nor the sorrows that interrupt your life. They will likely be a surprise to you, catching you off guard and unprepared. You may hold your head in your hands and lament your weak condition and wonder what you ought to do.
To suffer, that is common to all. To suffer and still keep your composure, your faith, and your smile, that is remarkable. Pain will change you more profoundly than success or good fortune. Suffering shapes your perception of life, your values and priorities, and your goals and dreams." -David Crosby
I can see life very differently now. I have learned that yes, suffering does shape your perception of life, your values, your priorities, goals, and dreams. No religions, no spirituality, no happy philosophies or psychological knowledge or intellect can transform us unless we have, before acquiring any good or useful knowledge that may come from them, understood our own suffering.
And to truly understand means we find and pursue the purpose and the good, not the anger, cynicism, closed-off-ness, and bitterness, that the suffering once caused us. Life can actually be bold and radiant once we arrive at this place.
"You desire to know the art of living, my friend? It is contained in one phrase: make use of suffering." -Henri Frederic Amiel
Creativity is a practice of sharing authenticity and bringing into the world something new and fresh, which can only be reached in the present moment. When we are defined by the wounds from our past suffering, we can't live, we can't be present. There is no more fiery but rewarding work than going into ourselves and figuring out all the wiring, all the whys, all the creative, redemptive purpose for suffering.
At a certain point of emotional maturity the question is no longer 'why me?' or 'what did I do to deserve this?' The realization is that it is inevitable: we all suffer. And we ask these questions for a time, but then, if we are really in pursuit of our own healing, not our own comfort (there is a big difference between these two ultimate goals), we move beyond them; they'll take us around in unanswerable circles forever.
We have to come to some creative awareness beyond what we think we know to see how life can be redeemed for us, and how our wounds are in fact sacred. It can be comfortable to stay stuck in suffering because it is familiar to us- we know it. But if we want healing, we have to realize how broken we are, and be brave and faith-filled in confronting our darkness.
That is how we get light. No mud, no lotus.