With the reported number of COVID-19 cases (13,060 according to JHU as of this posting) in the US now having surpassed the number of cases in every country except China (81,155), Italy (41,035), Iran (18,407), Spain (17,963), and Germany (15,320), it looks to me like the US is in store for a great deal of suffering in the near future.
Many thanks to Maria Popova of the brainpickings.org blog for bringing this to my attention. I strongly recommend reading much more of Ms. Popova’s thoughts at her blog (which I discovered only today). I know I’ll be doing so.
In particular, Le Guin writes:
Suffering is a misunderstanding.
It exists… It’s real. I can call it a misunderstanding, but I can’t pretend that it doesn’t exist, or will ever cease to exist. Suffering is the condition on which we live. And when it comes, you know it. You know it as the truth. Of course it’s right to cure diseases, to prevent hunger and injustice, as the social organism does. But no society can change the nature of existence. We can’t prevent suffering. This pain and that pain, yes, but not Pain. A society can only relieve social suffering, unnecessary suffering. The rest remains. The root, the reality. All of us here are going to know grief; if we live fifty years, we’ll have known pain for fifty years… And yet, I wonder if it isn’t all a misunderstanding — this grasping after happiness, this fear of pain… If instead of fearing it and running from it, one could… get through it, go beyond it. There is something beyond it. It’s the self that suffers, and there’s a place where the self—ceases. I don’t know how to say it. But I believe that the reality — the truth that I recognize in suffering as I don’t in comfort and happiness — that the reality of pain is not pain. If you can get through it. If you can endure it all the way.
Her thoughts on “this fear of pain” remind me of Frank Herbert‘s thoughts on fear:
I must not fear. Fear is the mind-killer. Fear is the little-death that brings total obliteration. I will face my fear. I will permit it to pass over me and through me. And when it has gone past I will turn the inner eye to see its path. Where the fear has gone there will be nothing. Only I will remain.
Le Guin goes on to reflect that:
It is our suffering that brings us together. It is not love. Love does not obey the mind, and turns to hate when forced. The bond that binds us is beyond choice. We are brothers. We are brothers in what we share. In pain, which each of us must suffer alone, in hunger, in poverty, in hope, we know our brotherhood. We know it, because we have had to learn it. We know that there is no help for us but from one another, that no hand will save us if we do not reach out our hand. And the hand that you reach out is empty, as mine is. You have nothing. You possess nothing. You own nothing. You are free. All you have is what you are, and what you give.
If you evade suffering you also evade the chance of joy. Pleasure you may get, or pleasures, but you will not be fulfilled. You will not know what it is to come home… Fulfillment… is a function of time. The search for pleasure is circular, repetitive, atemporal… It has an end. It comes to the end and has to start over. It is not a journey and return, but a closed cycle, a locked room, a cell… The thing about working with time, instead of against it, …is that it is not wasted. Even pain counts.
I’ve also read that The Buddha considered all suffering to stem from a sense that one deserves something; a sense of expectation. My pithy interpretation of these writings is that, if one can surrender all sense of expectation, then from that point forward, everything that happens in one’s life can be perceived as a gift, and one’s own suffering disappears. I’m not sure I agree completely, but I do think there may be some wisdom in this line of thinking. I hope it helps some in a time of global suffering.
Learn more about The Buddha at wikipedia.