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On the absurdity of being

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Image by Elias Sch. from Pixabay

One moment, there is excitement. One feels elated and on top of the world. Full of passion, energy and hope. But then a single text message or a call about the death or tragedy of close someone changes everything. It blows up one’s hope and elation and creates fear and despair in the mind, at least for a while.

In such moments, one wonders why is life so absurd and fickle. Why can’t one refuse to suffer? Why is it that one can’t be in grief on their terms? Where is free will or one’s agency to erect a wall of safety against things that hurt us emotionally? One can understand that there are biological, physiological or psychological reasons for emotional dread but these explanations don’t justify its very existence.

The questions that haunt the mind the most in moments of extreme distress is why is suffering necessary. Why is it an essential condition for one’s inner peace and happiness, as most claim it to be? They give the examples of the opposites of day and night, hot and cold and so on, to show that just as these pairs of opposites are necessary for each other’s existence, so are happiness or peace and suffering.

I am not a scientist and hence ignorant about the natural makeup and processes of the phenomena of day and night and other pairs of opposites as to why one can not exist without the other. But that still does not prevent one from questioning the teleological logic of suffering. In other words, what purpose does it serve?

Sages across the millennia have pondered on this existential dread and have offered thoughts, but pain or suffering’s teleology remains a mystery. However, a deeper reflection on suffering has brought to the surface ideas that relieve many from its imperiousness. Epicurus (341-270 BC), the Greek philosopher, said, “Pain is neither unbearable nor unending, as long as you keep in mind its limits and don’t magnify them in your imagination.”

Marcus Aurelius (121-80), the Roman emperor and philosopher, said, “If you are distressed by anything external, the pain is not due to the thing itself, but to your estimate of it; and this you have the power to revoke at any moment.”

No one is an exception to the experience of pain and grief. For the psychologically normal being, it may be less severe than for the one who is oversensitive/over-empathetic about their own and the pains of others. The nature of being is essentially such that each one of us, like Sisyphus in Greek mythology, have a boulder of grief and pain to roll up a hill. Some have to, sadly, do it more frequently than others. This inherent lack of justice and inequality is itself absurd.

However, lucky is the one who has a lighter boulder. But, given the absurdity of being, lucky is also the one who gets a heavier boulder to roll up, for if they succeed in doing so, rolling the lighter ones becomes a routine. In the end, life, in moments of distress, is really about how well one trains their mind to deal with suffering, as it is intrinsic to the unreasonable nature of being.

There is no escape from experiencing grief and pain, no matter how much one wishes. Philosophers and psychologists advise one possible escape is in accepting it and becoming one with it. In other words, letting the grief and pain be. Fighting it, they guide, only makes it worse. Pain comes and goes on its time, and while it does all one can do in such a moment is hope and trust that they will be ok.

Unlike suffering, hope is reasonable, because it is the hope of a better tomorrow that we survive a difficult today. As the French philosopher Gabriel Marcel in Homo Viator said, “I am inclined to believe that hope is for the soul what breathing is for the living organism.”


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