The mother of necessity

It’s said that necessity is the mother of invention but what is the mother of necessity? Just as generosity is mother of all blessings, so the mother of all necessity is suffering.

To live is to suffer. Is there anyone you know who does not suffer? Everyone you see has suffered, is suffering or will one day suffer. Sometimes suffering is small and simple, like losing the car keys. Often it is huge, like watching an aging parent lose his mind, a friend die of cancer, a small child who is not loved, a rejected friendship; sometimes physical, like arthritic pain, nausea, or lost vision; even emotional, like loneliness, anger or despair. The ways in which we suffer are far too numerous to list. At the same time, each of us suffer in ways common and unique.

Because we want to overcome heartbreak, pain and suffering, necessity arises. Like finding shelter from the rain, we’ll design and create our refuge from suffering as required. So it is we seek comfort and cling to items of enjoyment. The discomfort of hard ground gives rise to gathered clumps of grass and eventually to silk covered goose down pillows. The fragility of sticks and mud transforms to skyscrapers one-half mile high. The spirit and warmth of fire becomes YouTube videos flickering on our cell phone. Suffering is basic to our existence. All the good and bad we experience arises from suffering. We tend to focus on the good, such as entertainment and distraction. The genesis of all art is overcoming suffering and it can be safely said that without suffering human culture would never have developed.

It is when we engage in protecting others from suffering, like family, friends and tribe, things get complicated. An aggressive military, for profit medical care and the introduction of 80,000 industrial chemicals into the food chain are all complications of trying to do good to overcome suffering. So it is that good sometimes turns out bad, and like a weight loss diet, what feels bad for a while can sometimes turn out good.

These outcomes are due to our general ignorance and our ignorance of suffering. Our general ignorance is simply due to the fact that we don’t and can’t know everything; it’s the price of being human. Our ignorance of suffering generates denial, and denial is a trickster. When in denial we lose touch with the world around us, our own suffering and the suffering of others. While in this state of ignorance, the truth is obscured and we become trapped in a complicated web of self-deception requiring tremendous energy to maintain. The harder we work to keep the deception under wraps, the more difficult the job becomes. The piles of lies we tell ourselves become a heap, and then a mountain. Closed off from truth, our suffering of suffering becomes nearly constant, manifesting as loneliness, chronic anxiety, depression, compulsiveness, aggression, bitterness, exhaustion, and sickness.

The antidote to denial is surrender, which includes surrender to one truth of suffering: how each of us suffers is no more or less important than the suffering of others. Specifics may vary widely, but the emotional experience of suffering is something we share. In this respect, basic suffering unites us in a common reality of being human. According to the sages, acceptance of this truth is a first step towards liberation.

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