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By Brianna Wiest
There have been so many poets and thinkers and philosophers who have spoken to this idea: the purpose of suffering. The wound through which Rumi claims the light enters. The beautiful people Elisabeth Kübler-Ross says had to know defeat and suffering and struggle to know appreciation and sensitivity and understanding. The pain Khalil Gibran believes sears the most incredible characters’ hearts. The suffering through which Fyodor Dostoyevsky claims a large intelligence and deep heart can be born. The people C. Joybell C. sees as stars: dying until they realize they are collapsing into supernovas, to become more beautiful than ever before.
Heartbreak may not be responsible for fundamental, biological human growth, but rather the kind that we also know: in our minds and of our hearts and throughout our souls. If the philosophers couldn’t speak to it well enough, surely you’ve experienced something of the same strain in your own life: the pain that was crucial to the process, the things that were lost to prepare for those that would be gained, the excruciating experiences that made you who you are now.
It’s a phenomena so many people talk about but most can never quite define: the catalyst that breaks you open, the rock bottom on which you build the rest of your beautiful life. The suffering that was somehow so crucial, you’re grateful for it when all is said and done. It’s the human equivalent of metamorphosis, the darkness against which we can finally see light.
It’s my belief that if we could understand why our pain is necessary, we could bear it with more grace, or at least learn to listen to it before it forces us to. Here, the 7 reasons why heartbreak is often necessary for human growth…
1. Suffering is only necessary until we realize it isn’t, but it usually takes something to make us realize that.
Pain and suffering are not the same thing, I’m sure you’ve heard this before. We love pain. We make the same expression during an orgasm as we do while being tortured. Crying is cathartic, the physiological sensation of pain ultimately keeps us alive. It’s suffering that we don’t like. Suffering is a resistance to pain, and it’s in resistance that we suffer. We don’t choose what pains us, and that’s a good thing. We do choose what we suffer for, and that’s even better. It was always only of our own volition.
2. Human beings think they are seeking happiness, but they are seeking comfort and familiarity, above all else.
People are incapable of predicting what will make them happy. This is because all we know is what we’ve known. Our culture, however, is big on “planning” for the future, choosing our happiness and chasing it. In an effort to do this, we just choose something we knew from the past, even when, objectively, it wasn’t happiness at all. It was something we desire more: comfort. Until our loyalty to our comfort zones becomes too uncomfortable to bear, we won’t be forced to seek something genuinely greater than whatever it is we once thought was best.
3. Suffering teaches us that trying to change the external world to be happy is like trying to change the projection on the screen rather than the projector that’s playing it.
Byron Katie speaks to this beautifully: “Once we realize where the lint is, we can clear the lens itself. This is the end of suffering, and the beginning of a little joy in paradise.” She is referring, of course, to our minds, and the fact that we don’t realize to turn inward until we dig ourselves deep enough into a dark hole of trying to change what’s outward. Your mind is the lens through which you perceive the world. You must adjust it’s focus to change your life, not the opposite way around.
4. Often “suffering” comes to us in the form of a breakdown, which is really just a breakthrough that we haven’t seen the other side of yet.
Through learning that sometimes (… oftentimes) we don’t know what’s best for us, and yet somehow, our subconscious, instinctive selves do. I’m not claiming to know that there’s necessarily a divine intervention responsible, but I am claiming to know that many times even in my own life, I somehow knew when it was time to break my own heart for the sake of something greater, even though I didn’t know what that greater thing was at the time.
5. A capacity to feel joy must be balanced by a capacity to know pain.
Our world is born of, and exists because, of duality. This is a fundament of our natural world, but it’s also important to see in our own lives. The truth is that the greater capacity you have for darkness is as much contrast through which you can see light. The yin/yang of our emotional selves is always in balance, it truly just depends on what perspective we choose to view things through – both are equally available to us, the choice is always, ultimately, ours.
6. Pain is a signal that something’s wrong, suffering is what happens when we don’t heed it.
Physiologically, of course this is true, but it’s even more true emotionally and mentally. We almost like to create problems for ourselves out of a very deep belief that we deserve pain (the bad kind) out of retribution for how terrible we (wrongfully) believe ourselves to be. It’s only through grappling with that pain that we realize it was always self-induced, and served mostly just to help us unlearn our need to create it, to realize why we don’t deserve it, and in the process of doing so reconnect with who we truly are, not just what the rest of the world sees us to be.
7. The universe whispers until it screams.
There is no traumatic experience that is ever a completely singular event. There is no heartbreak that is ever just the cause of one thing. It’s the pattern. It’s what the loss compounds on. It’s the final hit that breaks us open, the moment when we realize that we knew what was true all along, though something prevented us from heeding the calls early on. That is what we break through, when we break open. How beautiful, to live in a body and world that allows you to explore the darkness, but pains you when it’s time to come back. How wild, that nobody tells us about this until we’re in it, or already almost too far gone.