Suffering is the sandpaper of our incarnation. It does the work of shaping us.–Ram Dass
We all suffer. It is in the nature of being human. We suffer because we feel pain–physical, emotional, mental or combinations and permutations of all three. We suffer because we care about other people and about ourselves.
The Buddhists would state that we are "attached" to the content of our lives, the ideas, dreams, aspirations, pain and suffering of those we love–and since they are all transitory and mortal we are bound to suffer.
Therefore we can never expect to eliminate suffering. But we can help ourselves reduce suffering if we keep in mind certain concepts:
1) Pain and suffering are not identical. Pain is a negative thought or event which occurs to us or a loved-one. Pain is universal by virtue of our attachments, our mortality and the ephemeral nature of existence. Suffering is how our mind deals with the pain. If we are prepared for adversity then it is not quite so shocking when it occurs. If we understand the nature of reality, that death and loss is inevitable, then we can move on with greater acceptance.
(2) Suffering is not punishment for wrong-doing. Even karmic influences from pror lives do not doom us to suffering.
(3) We possess free will. We can choose how we respond to adversity.
(4) Suffering itself, like all things, is temporary. "This too shall pass".
(5) Facing life in general with a clear-headed positive optimistic outlook produces a sense of confidence that attracts other like minded individuals. We may be better at getting up after we have fallen down. But there are times when caution and concern are needed to protect ourselves and our loved-ones. The challenge is to balance the light and dark of our emotional landscape.
(6) Our own suffering awakens us to what is important in life. When we become obsessed with material objects, money, prestige or praise we lose sight of the deeper values of existence. Suffering clarifies all of that–in an instant. We realize our legacy in life depends on how we treat other people–when no one else is looking.
(7) Suffering must have its limits. When we emotionally attach too deeply to any other living soul we become vulnerable to physical and emotional collapse. We need to balance compassion for others with compassion for ourselves.
(8) The serenity prayer teaches us to accept what we cannot change. Easier said than done but essential.
(9) Suffering is the mark of being alive and because we understand suffering, are able to offer empathy and compassion towards others. This is a karmic gift for us.
(10) If we see ourselves as essentially spiritual beings having a human experience than this perspective gives us strength to overcome the adversity which is a necessary part of our being alive.
(11) We will, therefore, understand what Ram Dass means when he states that suffering is the sandpaper that shapes us in this incarnation.