The Art of Suffering

Why do I subject myself to physical struggles and suffering?

It’s cold. Cold enough to seep into your bones and take several cups of hot chocolate and a warm fire to return to homeostasis. So why on earth are we outside, with skis strapped to our vulnerable meat-bag like bodies? The location is the exposed ridge of Hog’s Back in Quebec's Chic Chocs. These east coast beasts, pronounced ‘Shick Shocks’ in a luscious French accent, are a mountain range in the heart of the Gaspe Peninsula. There’s a 50 mile-an-hour wind howling at us, frost bite ready to chomp at our faces.

Strangely, this is exactly why I’m screaming “AHHH I F&$KING LOVE THIS!” at the top of my lungs.

What is it about these certain extremes that attracts me? Well, I simultaneously ask anyone who has earned fresh turns by hiking to the top of a peak in the early hours of twilight, were these not some of the best lines of your life? Was not each turn a moment of ascent realized and liberated as the sun was rising? Was it not redemption? Anyhow, without seeming too grandiose, the simple answer then, must be that only through pain one is able to find genuine joy. I’m sure this applies differently for us all. Suffering still remains a part of everyone’s life, and thus our mind is always able to cope -- one simply has to persevere. Whether it be below zero winter camping, a 90-mile mountain bike ride, a 24-hour backpacking trek from hell, or more generally, mourning over the loss of a loved one or an end to a longterm relationship, all of us are capable of finding that early morning serenity of fresh turns and fresher powder. Never is this a black and white transition. People, place, and time are the aids for recovery and, for me, the addition of solitude and silence.

As for the mission on Hog’s Back; situations like those make my mind act like a calm lake even with Ullr hyperventilating on us. On the surface it’s wild and loud -- screaming and squealing with joy like a pig free of its pen -- but what’s happening beneath is of ultimate importance. At the core of it all, this joy is a release. It’s not a physical torture in order to fill a sensory void, it’s a meditation. And yes, it’s also a therapy  Oh, “therapy,” pump the brakes! A word that coincides with AA groups or manic depression! A preconceived label that society has branded for people that need help. Let’s face it, we all need help at some point in our lives. Vulnerability is a prerequisite for love. I’ll repeat that, without vulnerability, love cannot exist because you cannot get close enough to someone if you don’t open and show yourself. Similarly without pain, you can never really know the true extent of your joy.

Yes, joy and pain go hand in hand. And yes, when there’s black there’s white, but also grey, and very likely beautiful colors as well. This is where most of our thoughts float around. Never too far left or too far right, but in and out of the middle of the spectrum of emotion. The key is to find moderation within this spectrum. A little bit of everything to find balance. Sounds easy right? HA! Well, I doubt anyone has been able to find it, even monks that dedicate their lives to end the cycle of samsara (suffering). But again, perseverance. And again. Perseverance.

As an aside, I do find interesting the concept of searching to end suffering for myself once and for all, and becoming a monk or yogi. However, I believe when applied to reality that it’s a bit out of reach and also a tad self-centered -- to renounce everything in order to find oneself. It could work for some as a way to set an example or remind others of this previously mentioned idea of infinite perseverance, but for the layperson it’s beyond impractical with all the variables in life’s equation. Actually, every human being should strive to be a monk or yogi not in the traditional sense but perhaps a way where you continue to be a part of life’s regular flow. For example a truck driver yogi, a professional skier monk, a businessman shaman. What I’m trying to say is that we should still strive to be enlightened creatures while also contributing to our world, and our families. Plus ending suffering may not necessarily be a good thing. To suffer is to be human. As I’ve said without any pain how can we hope to feel the true joy of life?

Also let's be real. Suffering is impossible to truly end with certainty. New things are always on the horizons and with these things are brought both new joys and new pains. Often, it feels like life is a rollercoaster that you’re riding backwards and blind - though hopefully without the resulting nausea. What’s going to happen next? Truly no one can answer that, expect maybe someone who writes fortunes for Chinese fortune cookies for a living -- if you ever happen to meet one that is -- and who knows, maybe they come straight from the heavens anyhow …


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