All these philosophers, such as Derrida and Foucault and Confucius, spent their entire lives trying to figure out what “the meaning of life” is. Well, folks, at 24 years old, I think I figured out what it is: the meaning of life is about suffering.
As humans, we constantly suffer in every aspect of our lives: our physical states, our mental state, our emotional states, our relationshipal-states. When I find myself suffering, I always think, “Ok, once I can get through this hurdle, then things will be better”. And, inevitably, once I surpass that hurdle, something else always comes up. For example, these last two weeks I have definitely been suffering. I overloaded my plate and experienced both physical and mental fatigue. Like, pretty sure my brain just stopped working the other day–I completely forgot a girl’s name who has been on my team for three years AND in my grad class, I said “sciencified” (what that even means, I have NO idea). I COULD NOT WAIT until fall break, when I could finally relax, and stop the suffering. And, of course, fall break comes around, and more suffering ensues (such as, a stress blister that won’t seem to go away, the beginning of a cold, a list of things I have been neglecting to do, and some unfortunate family news).
I find this common theme occurring constantly throughout my life: first, it was the suffering of finding a first job, and then the suffering of being rejected. Once I obtained my first job, it then became suffering through the physical and mental exhaustion, suffering through the personal attacks from leadership and parents, suffering through trying to understand what this evaluation process was all about. When that all subsided, and summer gleamed through, it became about suffering through accepting my dad’s new marriage, my brother’s school decisions, and my grandpa’s decline in health. No matter where I turn and no matter the amount of suffering I overcome, there is always more suffering.
But, what I think the ultimate meaning of life in all of this suffering is about the learning that comes out of it. People run around, criticizing, saying, “Why is it that people only care in times of need? Shouldn’t we be caring all the time?” Well, yes, in a perfect world, in times of crisis or in times of need, we should be the same gracious, selfless individuals. However, this is not a perfect world, and I think that, in times of bliss, we are not as receptive of the lessons we learn during suffering. But, when we are in times of suffering, we seek answers, understanding, guidance, and therefore, the lessons become that much more meaningful.
I think this is why I like yoga, and bruises, and books with depressing endings, so much. Yoga is a constant state of suffering. For one, the room is really, really, really hot, sometimes, so hot to the point I get lightheaded and think I am going to pass out. I sweat all over the place, and spend a good majority of my time in downward dog, hoping my hands and feet don’t slip out from under me. Stretching hurts really, really bad. And, in every class, we always do my least favorite pose ever: utkatasana, or chair pose. Like, I really dread utkatasana. It hurts my shoulders, hurts my legs. My back is always awkwardly curved and I never know where to gaze because I am in so much pain and am so uncomfortable and can’t wait for it to be over. But, it is within these moments of suffering that I learn a little about myself. My favorite yoga teacher once said, “Pain is inevitable, suffering is optional”. When I get lightheaded, I evaluate and ask myself, “Is this a real thing, or am I just being a wimp?” Most of the time, I am just being a wimp, I push myself through, become mentally tougher, and always fall into a deeper, more rewarding savasana at the end. When I sweat and fear slipping, I turn my focus to lengthening my breath, which becomes an excellent strategy for anytime off the yoga mat that I am stressed, anxious, overwhelmed. I learn to love the pain accompanied by stretching and when I know utkatasana is coming, I motivate myself, “Utkatasana ain’t got nothing on me”.
I am not sure, as humans, we will ever stop suffering. When 10:00 AM hits, I am starving, because my breakfast already wore off, and I suffer. When the hot tub at LifeTime gives me ringworm, my skin is tender to the touch, and I suffer. When my neighbor’s dog barks all night, I don’t get any sleep and I suffer. But, I think the meaning of life is learning to work through that suffering, and it is learning to turn that suffering into a sense of enlightenment. When I am in a relationship, I suffer from missing my significant other, and when I am not in a relationship, I suffer from being lonely. And through each of these circumstances, while the pain may be inevitable, the suffering becomes a little less, because it turns into a welcome (but perhaps not always enjoyable) habit.