"He’s truly valiant that can wisely suffer
The worst that man can breathe, and make his wrongs
His outsides, to wear them like his raiment, carelessly,
And ne’er prefer his injuries to his heart,
To bring it into danger.
If wrongs be evils and enforce us kill,
What folly ’tis to hazard life for ill!"
Timon of Athens (Act III, Scene V)
Poets, artists, parents and spiritual leaders have brought so much to my life and yet not one of them was completely fulfilled during their life time. All of them had to endure pain along the path to divine inspiration.
The worst often brings out the best in us. The greatest art and music has typically emanated from the poorest, most down trodden in our society.
Whether it is world inspiring rap music and break dancing from the inner city ghetto's or any one of the many great spiritual masters that cast their inspirational net to gather flocks of generations to come. All of these individuals endured the kind of suffering that you and I could not begin to imagine.
We have been taught to become comfort addicts. Slaves to time saving contraptions. Because we free, we have got busier than any generation before our time. The slightest agony or pain is muffled by a pill. The constant noise of the cinema, tv, radio and now the internet - crowd out the possibility of a solitary original thought.
When Hollywood and Bollywood conduct film tests, they are told the public wants a happy ending. Directors are artists are not allowed to make the film they want to make, or we, the ignorant masses will deny them their castle in the air.
When did become so shallow? Even Shak's lightest comedies are crafted in the solid oak of reality. All the classic romances of every generation, across every culture are filled with the anguish of love, separation and betrayal, often concluding at the pain of death. Is it a case of as our bellies get full, our hearts and minds grow empty?
We set the standard of our relationships with friends, lovers and children at such a safe level, there is no challenge, there is nothing to work for, if we don't need to put anything in, how can we ever be fulfilled? Why should we be surprised at the torrent of divorces, addictions, depression, violence and social decay that draw sustenance from our comfortable lies?
Suffering is not something we should create for its own sake, nor something to be avoided, it is inevitable. It is part of growing up. Is it time for us to open our eyes and accept the glory of the rough with the gory of the smooth?
"You have rated me
About my moneys and my usances:
Still have I borne it with a patient shrug,
For sufferance is the badge of all our tribe"
Merchant of Venice (Act I, Scene III)
If my definition of a "good life" is one that contains no pressures, no failures or any suffering of any kind, if comfort is the badge of my tribe, I am condeming myself to a life of plain boredom, to be filled by the flickering fantasies of a life containing the drama of my dreams.
Follow the script of the laughter machine, a shadow puppet of celebrity, cower to conformity, trade courage for convenience, idolatry for identity and a full life for a flashy label.
We do not need to adorn the armour of a mythical hero or turn our lives into a second rate soap opera. We do not need to suck on the soother of sadness to feel alive. We have enough actors, singers and politicians to make this sacrifice on our behalf. We need to crack open the heart of pain, dip our hands into is earthy roots and smell what it means to be alive, whilst we are alive.
Being born was not a pleasure cruise. Dieing is no longer the flick of a switch. Why do we expect consumer packaged goods companies to ambush the glory of our lives?
Why do we set up our celebrities for the fall? Give them just enough adoration to convince them we need them to be our heroes, when all we want is to hold them hostage to voyeuristic need, draw comfort from their fall from grace. Prove to our shallow delight that they were mortals after all. We dont need their suffering as a surrogate for ours.
Anguish is the stone upon which our character is sharpened. We do not need to lick the stone to taste it's dirt. We need to reflect honestly, learn from our mistakes and the stone of our suffering to sharpen our saw. We need to define what our life means for us on our terms, no longer be a menu for marketers.
If our heroes are our heroes because they overcame the limits of their environment and refused to succumb to their natural born frailty, then maybe we should afford ourselves the same privilege?
The lives and work of the great poets and great leaders reminds us of the power of our mortality and the beauty of our imperfection. What else can we possibly want?
"When we our betters see bearing our woes,
We scarcely think our miseries our foes.
Who alone suffers, suffers most i’ the mind,
Leaving free things and happy shows behind;
But then the mind much sufferance doth o’erskip,
When grief hath mates, and bearing fellowship.
How light and portable my pain seems now,
When that which makes me bend, makes the king bow"
King Lear (Act III, Scene VI)