Suffering is inevitable so let’s embrace it

Randy Gibson
9 min readMay 13, 2021


Every single year of life, 2021 being no different, we will suffer.

We will face some amount of suffering every day.

As the philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche said,

“To live is to suffer, to survive is to find some meaning in the suffering.”

We cannot hide from this universal fact and attempts to hide from it can make our suffering worse:

“Love your suffering. Do not resist it, do not flee from it. It is your aversion that hurts, nothing else.” — Herman Hesse

Facing our suffering, instead of avoiding it, is exactly how clinical psychologists help us. We harbor emotions from our past experiences and through therapy they help us face them. They help us dissect our suffering and attain a different perspective — a perspective that allows us to respond better going forward.

Responding to suffering

One response is resetting our expectations. If we have an expectation that we will be free from suffering, we will entrap ourselves in a cycle of dissatisfaction. As we inevitably become sad, anxious, or emotional, we will dissolve into further suffering.

A better response is to embrace our suffering as an unavoidable part of the journey. The journey of life. In order to become the hero of our journey, we have to embrace and overcome the challenges. If we avoid the journey, we will suffer more in the long run. If we take the journey, we will suffer but we will come out on the other end stronger and more resilient.

The immigrant is very familiar with this story. Immigrants set out on a hopeful journey and realize that obstacles and adversity are inevitable. It is only from facing and overcoming these obstacles that bring them their growth and success.

We also may feel guilty for our lack of suffering compared to others. This can be another type of self-entrapment because we will always have examples of harsher suffering in the world, so we cannot let this dissuade us from managing our own. Besides, if we have yet to get our own internal affairs in order, how do we expect to help anyone else?

The difficult part about comparing suffering is that most people’s suffering resides in their mind rather than their physical world.

Seneca warned us of this a few thousand years ago:

“We suffer more in imagination than in reality.”

Montaigne also:

“There were many terrible things in my life but most of them never happened.”

This wisdom is supported by modern data. The privileged and the successful suffer from mental illness worse than the socioeconomically disadvantaged.

“If you look at the rates of mental illness, suicide, depression, schizophrenia, in the modern American environment, they’re sky high and climbing. The suicide rate keeps going up, which is odd for a society that’s this wealthy and well-off. It’s not that the suicide is increasing among the very poor. It’s actually increasing among the affluent.” -Sebastian Junger, Tribe

This is because affluence is a tricky game. If we chase affluence but aren’t ready to bear the responsibility of affluence we can suffer more. What makes this even worse is when we allow others to define what our affluence means to us.

This is why I believe affluence should be an internal measurement instead of an external one. It should be a spiritual pursuit instead of one of ego and vanity. We should all be chasing an affluent mental life, between our ears, instead of the external one society envisions.

For example, society has come to view males as affluent and powerful and has come to view white males as the most affluent and powerful of all.

But, this is a measurement of external affluence.

Therefore, it may come as a surprise that they come with high suicide rates:

  • Males commit suicide 3.5x more often than women and White males commit suicide 2.5x more often than Black or Hispanic males.

Of course, this isn’t a racial or a group identity issue. These facts still remain across America:

“The more assimilated a person is into American society, the more likely they are to develop depression during the course of their lifetime, regardless of what ethnicity they are. Mexicans born in the United States are wealthier than Mexicans born in Mexico but far more likely to suffer from depression.” — Sebastian Junger, Tribe

When we are finally able to achieve external affluence, and it's just a result of our internal affluence, we discover more meaning, the one Nietzsche talked about.

Suffering can be an antidote

To create a stronger internal environment we have to go through external adversity.

This is because our internal environment is deeply molded by our external environment. New research even suggests that we are imprinted with experiences as early as birth. A form of therapy, called Somatic Therapy, has burst onto the psychology scene because of the influx of research on the mind-body connection.

The ultimate representation of this mind-body connection is via David Goggins. In his autobiography, he takes you on a journey through his childhood and young adult life, which were filled with adversity and suffering. He then brings you to his eventual revelation in adulthood — that to strengthen his internal world, he needed to go through adversity in his external world.

And, to prepare for the inevitable suffering he’d face in life, he needed to continually expose himself to external challenges. Goggins dedicated the rest of his life to this philosophy and is a tremendous source of inspiration for others. Here is a short clip of inspiration from him.

Another great example of this is in pregnancy, and birth, which my wife Tina is currently going through. She has chosen to attempt (emphasis added) a natural birth which has become a taboo in our society. To tell your peers you are trying a natural birth comes with weird looks and sometimes even a scoff.

The alternative to natural birth is a fully medicated birth with interventions beginning to end. This birth may bring comfort but at what costs?

In the 20th century, interventions helped save mothers’ lives but what about the 21st century? Since 1990, maternal mortality rates have steadily gone up despite the improvement in medicine and interventions.

If you are “at-risk” then please take all precautions, but if we look at maternal mortality rates, only 17% of deaths happen during birth. And, of the 17% that happen during birth, 33% of them are caused by heart disease and stroke.

Like most things in life, our fears don’t represent the facts. That’s because emotions drive our behavior, not facts, as James Clear points out:

  • Emotions drive behavior. We can only be rational and logical after we have been emotional.

Therefore, could embracing and overcoming the discomfort of a natural birth bring us a once in a lifetime personal and spiritual transformation?

If you read stories of natural childbirth, they sound very similar to a psychedelic experience, which is another large area of personal and spiritual transformation.

This is why a boom of Westerners have been seeking these experiences. The most popular substance of recent times is Ayahuasca but most people are familiar with LSD and magic mushrooms.

One story from a mother who has experienced both Ayahuasca and birth, calls both experiences:

“extraordinary primal rites of passage: a point-of-no-return event that leaves one irrevocably changed.”

Therefore, could birth be viewed as a sacrament? Could its pain be viewed as a inevitable part of the journey? Or, as one doctor calls it, “a psycho-spiritual initiation into adult consciousness.”

Instead of seeking comforting medication, maybe we could seek the support of a doula, similar to a guide or a shaman in the psychedelic experience.

(As a side note, medicated births, and most birth interventions, may actually bring 2–5X more discomfort to women afterwards in the form of severe perineal lacerations (aka vaginal tears).)

The last area where this philosophy presents itself is a biological process called hormesis. Think of the pain you endure when you exercise, or stretch, or do yoga. This temporary pain delivers lasting benefits.

This hormetic effect is one reason why fruits and vegetables are so beneficial. Their phytochemicals play an important role in dissuading insects and other pests but these phytochemicals also induce a mild stress response in humans.

A myopic view may see this as a negative, but the mild stress response activates a myriad of beneficial cellular pathways like antioxidants, enzymes, and protective proteins.

This comfort and discomfort interplay is a balancing act we all face every day. Oren Jay Sofer in Say What You Mean eloquently summarizes it:

“We often seek relief from pain and discomfort through distraction or pleasure. This can help rebalance a beleaguered nervous system. The danger is when the choice to seek relief becomes a chronic reflex to anything uncomfortable. Over time, we can become incapable of tolerating even the smallest amount of pain without immediately doing something to change it.”

This is why I sincerely think that recent generations have had it worse because they have had it easiest.

I was reminded of how pervasive our suffering is when I recently heard Jerry Seinfeld sharing his daily struggles with depression.

“A lot of my life is — I don’t like getting depressed. I get depressed a lot.”

So, even if we all have our basic needs met, like Jerry, we will still have a general proclivity towards negativity:

“Your brain preferentially scans for, registers, stores, recalls, and reacts to unpleasant experiences. It’s like Velcro for negative experiences and Teflon for positive ones.” -Rick Hanson, Neuropsychologist

If you’d like to experience this, try sitting completely still in silence for an hour. Despite your needs being met in this moment, you will find pain and suffering.

Physically, it will be the pain in your back and limbs. Mentally, it will be the discomfort of the continuous chatter of your mind.

Now, imagine extrapolating this silent experience to your everyday life. If we can suffer in a silent room by ourselves, adding more variables from the outside world can only compound this effect. We become bombarded with stimuli everywhere we go and have to interact with other humans with their own unmet needs.

Even if we can make it through all of our pain and suffering, reaching our goals may not solve our problems.

This truth really revealed itself after reading Viktor Frankl, and his fellow concentration camp survivors, experiencing freedom for the first time in over a decade:

“Its reality did not penetrate into our consciousness; we could not grasp the fact that freedom was ours. We came to meadows full of flowers. We saw and realized that they were there, but we had no feelings about them. The first spark of joy came when we saw a rooster with a tail of multicolored feathers. But it remained only a spark; we did not yet belong to this world. In the evening when we all met again in our hut, one said secretly to the other, “Tell me, were you pleased today?” And the other replied, feeling ashamed as he did not know that we all felt similarly, “Truthfully, no!”

He goes on to say,

“We all said to each other in camp that there could be no earthly happiness which could compensate for all we had suffered. And yet we were not prepared for unhappiness. This disillusionment, which awaited not a small number of prisoners, was an experience which these men have found very hard to get over and which, for a psychiatrist, is also very difficult to help them overcome.”

This is because freedom doesn’t mean freedom from burdens. Freedom comes with responsibility. This is why Viktor Frankl advocates for us to build a “Statue of Responsibility” on the west coast to complement the “Statue of Liberty” on the east coast.

We can be our own therapist

Therapy works in relieving suffering because it gives you perspective, from an objective observer, and it helps alleviate any self-imposed suffering.

To a certain extent, we can be our own therapists. By dissociating ourselves from our thoughts, our emotions, and our identities, we can receive a different perspective. We can be dispassionate observers of our stream of consciousness.

But, as many philosophers and self-improvement gurus have pointed out, we are good at giving others advice but poor judges of ourselves (This is one of the reasons why I write.) So, until we can get good at being a dispassionate observer of ourselves, we should welcome any help.

Nancy Bardacke, who wrote Mindful Birthing, articulates this pursuit very well:

  • Mindfulness practice gives us options for relating to the physical sensations we call pain. In the very observation of the pain, a tiny window of freedom has opened up in which you have the ability to choose how you will relate to the painful sensations in that moment — and in the next, and the next after that. With mindfulness you have brought an entirely new element into the pain equation, and because of that you have changed your relationship to the sensation. And in doing so, you actually experience the pain differently. You still feel pain, but you are liberated from the reactivity of the mind.

Suffering is on the horizon. It will come tomorrow, the next day, and the next. We may feel inclined to avoid it but we will be better off if we embrace it.



Randy Gibson

Somewhere, something incredible is waiting to be known. -Carl Sagan ___________________ Professional: (