“Life is Suffering.”

For some time now, a year or so, I’ve been diving into Buddhism quite some. And the word suffering is used often in those circles. Now, of course, this is a translation of a Sanskrit word, and I don’t speak Sanskrit, so it’s good to keep that in mind.

I always thought this was a bit out of character, because Buddhism, to me, is a very positive philosophy, whereas the word suffering in itself has a very negative feel to it. So what’s with this talk about suffering all the time?

The first thing that I learnt about suffering that resonated with me is one of the Four Vows:
“I intend to alleviate all sentient beings from suffering.”

Well, that’s not something you’d just put on your to do list, is it?

What resonated with me is that I realised I don’t have to do this in this lifespan. In Buddhism (and in lots of other philosophies), reincarnation is a real thing, so we have multiple lives to do this. To me, when I put these two together, it became something attainable, something worth striving for.

Indeed, if life is suffering, I would like to help get that out of our collective system.

Gil Fronsdal, in his podcast, talked about how we see this sentence and that there is a fundamental misconception about it: “Life is suffering.”
Mostly, we will think about it as: “Life = suffering”. (Or, for the nerds: Life == Suffering.) And this, he says, is not what the sentence says. Suffering in this sentence is not a noun. It is an adjective. Life is beautiful. Life is boring. Life is stressful.

Especially that last one, he says you can translate the Sanskrit word as stressful and it will be helpful in understanding it: “I intend to alleviate all sentient beings from stress.”, “Life is stressful.” It kind of works…

And then last Sunday, I was attending a Buddhist teaching. The Lama, Erik, said that “Life is Suffering.” is just not true at all. That’s not what it’s about. And later something clicked with me. For me, Life is Suffering means: All life. All living beings are, indeed, suffering! That’s part of the quality of living here on this earth, in this life, on this plane. All life is suffering, we all have our cross (of matter) to bare. And this is exactly what we should be doing in this life, so we can learn from that and develop our Souls further on our path.

So. Yeah. Life is suffering. Life does not equal suffering. But all living beings, in a way, are suffering because they are alive. And this in itself is not a bad thing at all. In my eyes it is a necessary thing, a quality of life. And getting to the core of this is what we’re all doing, in our own way. All life is suffering, and we’re all healing.

You guys know I’m all about personal development. When I realized I hadn’t written about this before, this struck me as odd, because it’s one of the most profound experiences I’ve had.

I’m talking about taking time off… not breaking off your relationship, but just going somewhere on your own, without the partner you’ve had ‘forever’. After I did this for the first time, 8 years into my long-term relationship, I came back home and told my partner: “I’d like to do this every 5 years or so… because I think it’s beneficial for me and for our relationship. How do you feel about that?” My partner is amazingly awesome, because he said: “Sure. No problem at all.” 🙂

What I did? I took 6 weeks and ‘moved’ to the United States. I was in regular, if not daily, contact with my partner over skype. I had little to nothing to do (also important!). The physical distance is what did it for me. Yes, it was scary. Yes, I didn’t know what would happen. And yes, it was totally worth it because I learned a LOT about myself and my relationship.

This is what I experienced.

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Maximizing myself

I have learnt so freakin’ much the last year. I think it all comes down to this:

In the past, I’ve talked extensively about ‘maximizing yourself’. Now, when I say those words, they mean something totally different to me.

What I meant in the past was: Stop whining, go look for what you can improve about yourself, and then find a way to do it. There are no excuses not to do it, because that is all fear. If you step through the fear, and keep pushing yourself, you can improve yourself and maximize yourself.
I was very good at this. I was very good at pushing beyond my boundaries, because I had no idea where they were. While it is true that I’ve experienced that in a lot of things there are no limits if you keep pushing them, I’ve now also experienced that you can’t keep doing this forever without damaging something.

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“Would you let me know what time you’ll be home?”
“I’ll try…”

“I know I should clean up my room, but I don’t want to…

“Would you like to be part of our amateur choir?”
“Oh that sounds like fun, but I can’t sing!”


There are a couple of words that I banned from my vocabulary. You just read a couple of examples of those. (another one is found in this blogpost).

Recently, I realized that this is only one side of the story. There is a whole different side of the story, one that people sometimes tend to forget about.

I’m all for being motivational, all for achieving things, maximizing yourself and going beyond what you think you can do. I’ve experienced things that tell me that boundaries are illusions and that if you push yourself hard enough, you can do whatever you want. The examples are, in my opinion, a way to sabotage yourself. By saying them, you get a free pass to not do something that is actually a bit scary. By saying them, you keep yourself small so you don’t have to step up your game.

There are certain circumstances in which the use of these words are helpful, though.

Consider these following sentences:

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Some people seek knowledge. It might even drive them.

I know people who frequent wikipedia at least 10 times during a movie, looking up things they don’t know. I know people who get up in the morning and read up on something because they want to know more about it. I know people who level up on knowledge constantly and enjoy knowing stuff they are interested in.

I’m not like that. I enjoy learning about things. I enjoy broadening my skill set even more. But what I really seek, what really gets me up in the morning, is human connection.

I am driven by feeling connected with other human beings. Everything I do, be it smile to a random passer-by or ask a friend about what’s going on, is to enhance the feeling of connection with that other person.

I don’t want anything from you. I don’t have to rely on you. I just want to know you and try to understand what you’re about (note that I say ‘try’ here because I think it’s obviously an illusion to think you can fully know another human being)

This is why I love asking questions so much. It’s curiosity, nothing else. By asking questions, I hope to get answers. And those answers may be puzzle pieces to understanding you better. By gathering these puzzle pieces, it is easier to relate to you and thus easier to feel connected. I enjoy feeling this connection.

For the longest time, I didn’t know that this was not a universal thing. I was surprised when a friend told me the other day that he knows someone who does not seek to understand other people like I do.

I seek connection. I’m an addict for connection, really. I get upset when a connection seems to be severed (even temporarily) and I yearn for new connections constantly. That sounds a bit dramatic, but if everything I do is connected (no pun intended) to this, then it certainly is an important part of my life.

I am sure not all people work the same as me. I am sure other people have other things that drive them. This just tells me that asking questions comes naturally to me, and that I will always be interested in what anyone has to say. I even made this a large part of my work. I rarely meet anyone that I do not find interesting.

I guess I’m just really a people person.

I think about people who are close to me a lot. Sometimes, someone I know would just pop into my head. And sometimes, it’s because I know something is going on in that person’s life.

I’ve made it a habit to also act on this. Some time ago, I decided it couldn’t hurt to let this person know that I’m thinking about him/her, so I made it into a habit to send a message, or call them up to let them know. And every now and then, my timing proved to be impeccable and that was just what that person needed, which is nice for me to hear.

Lately however, I’ve been learning a lesson about thinking. I feel like thinking is not always the best way to go, and I’m learning to be in a space where there’s more of ‘feeling’ and less of ‘thinking’. It is teaching me a bunch of stuff, including things about flow, intuition and success/failure.

Today it struck me. The sentence “I’m thinking of you” doesn’t ring right anymore. What I do when I do that, is go with my feeling to that other person, and from a distance be present with them. There is absolutely no thinking involved!

So this led me to think I want to rephrase that little line. What should it be? I’m feeling you? I feel you? I feel about you?

Or maybe just a simple: I’m here. With which I mean: I’m here with you, in the now, on that feeling-level.

Suggestions are welcome! Yes, please!