Responsibility is power

You know, with great power comes great responsibility. That’s a great quote, but it has an underrepresented sibling:

With great responsibility comes great power.

I want to clarify a very important distinction: Responsibility is not the same as blame, or fault. Responsibility means so much more. The word itself contains the meaning, response-ability. The ability to respond. More than that, the competence to respond.

A drunk driver hits a loved one and kills them instantly. Devastating. It’s obvious who’s to blame, really. But who is responsible for the aftermath?

Who’s responsible for the ensuing depression, the sorrow, the empty spot your loved one used to occupy?

More often than not, people shirk responsibility. As if it’s something to be feared, something that weighs you down.

And in the common usage of the word, no wonder. It’s often used negatively. “Who is responsible for this?!” is thrown about in times of trouble. It’s often confused with fault. “Who’s fault is this?!” is often more appropriate. But even fault is relatively unrelated to responsibility.

Responsibility is voluntary, fault is not.

The drunk driver in the example above will always be at fault, whether he decides to take responsibility for what he’s done or not.

You may not be at fault for the bad things that life has thrown at you, but you can certainly choose to take responsibility for them. That means accepting things for what they are, forgiving whoever or whatever you perceive to be at fault (be aware though, perceptions can be deceiving), and taking action to make the situation better, in any way possible.

It means not waiting for someone else to help you, in fact it means not even wasting the mental energy on figuring out who you believe should make up for whatever happened to you.

If there is any way you can make it more likely that the person at fault will take responsibility, like calling them out on it, or actually talking to them, do it. But if there’s nothing you can do, let it slide. If amends are to be made, they will be made whether you brood on it or not.

I feel like this is a very key point. Sometimes, the best thing is for whoever caused a situation to take responsibility for it. It may be hard on them. Don’t take on somebody else’s responsibility unless you’re absolutely sure they’re adamant on not taking it.

However, when whoever is responsible shirks responsibility, you can decide to take it on yourself. This doesn’t mean that you start blaming yourself for what happened, but rather that you decide that you will do everything within your power to make it better.

This is no easy decision, but it can be incredibly impactful. Let me give you an example from my own life.

As I’ve alluded to in many posts, I have been very ill for the last two years. It was a major complication with a medication I had taken for a long timer, and at first I blamed doctors, pharmaceutical companies, hell, even society as a whole.

But two years is a long time.

I had time to see what all that brooding and blaming and hating was doing to me in the long run, and I didn’t like it.

I started to realize that if I ever wanted to get out of this mess, get my health back, and protect the people I loved from experiencing the same catastrophe, I would have to take responsibility for myself. For my own health, wealth, and happiness.

So that’s what I did, and here I am now.

My health is getting better every day, in fact every single aspect of my life has improved since the fateful decision to take on the great responsibility of being. That doesn’t mean that the decision itself allowed me to regain my health. It means that the decision to take responsibility finally allowed me to put in the work to find out what would.


That’s the thing, really. All responsibility does is open doors for solutions. If your shirk responsibility and blame somebody else, you’re essentially saying that somebody else should fix it. Worse yet, you’re saying somebody else is the only one who can fix it.

It’s all mental, as with so much else. We create our own reality by way of our thoughts. This truth is becoming clearer to me every single day.

That’s not to say that taking responsibility for yourself is easy. It’s not.

It will always be easier to find a scapegoat, somebody to blame. Whether it’s defensible or not. There’s always somebody else.

This is a matter of personal development. We can only change that which we take responsibility for. The power of personal responsibility can’t be overstated.

Let me tell you about another time responsibility changed my life.

I’ve been addicted to pornography for years. My name is Tolli, and I am a porn addict, as they say. One of the definitions of addiction is repeatedly trying to stop an activity, without success, despite destructive consequences. Well, ever since I discovered that you actually could become addicted to pornography, I’ve been trying to stop. That was five years ago.

A bit more than a month ago, I decided that I couldn’t go like this. I ended up installing accountability software on all my devices, which would monitor my online activities and send a message to my girlfriend if I searched for porn.

Suffice it to say, that decision stopped the addiction in its tracks.

So you may be wondering, how exactly does responsibility fit into this story?

Well, when we take on responsibility for a bad habit, it becomes painfully clear what action needs to be taken to remedy it. In this case, the action that needed to be taken was simple : Asking for help.

I installed the software, and then I asked my girlfriend to help me overcome my addiction. Sometimes, the action we need to take involves other people.

So what are the potential long-term outcomes of developing this mindset of responsibility? Let’s explore.

You will develop into somebody who is truly proud of him or herself, your achievements and relationships, because you know that they were truly responsible for their development.

The suffering that comes from the helplessness of blaming others for your problems will disappear. You no longer look to others and expect them to fix the sh*t you get yourself into. This means you’ll also be more careful not to muck things up, if at all possible.

When confronted with disaster, you will be the pillar, the shoulder to cry on. Instead of adding to the burden of grief, you will be able to be there for your family and friends when things go awry.

You will be the strong, stable, focused person you’ve always wanted to be. In part, this is because whatever happens, you know that you can deal with it, however difficult it may be. Life will give you catastrophe at some point. It’s bound to come. It’s just a part of the human experience.

When that time comes, you will be a rock. Your integrity won’t budge. Your mind won’t fill with hate and blame. Instead your mind will generate possible answers and solutions.

Can you imagine a life where you took full, complete responsibility for everything?

When you start do implement this mindset, you will see improvements everywhere. And not just by accident; you will be the reason for those improvements.

Your health will improve because you decide to take responsibility for your diet. Your environment will become more organized because you take responsibility for the mess all around you. Your relationships will improve because you take responsibility for saying what needs to be said.

The potential is truly limitless. This is how we can find true fulfillment. We may not always be happy, but happiness is overrated anyway.

Sometimes the action that needs to be taken to remedy your situation will take hard work. Sometimes blood, sometimes tears. It may not make you happy in the short term, but it will give you a sense of accomplishment and fulfillment that will stay with you for the rest of your life. Apart from fixing your problems, of course.

Let’s say you have a sh*tty diet. You take responsibility for it, and you start to eat clean, get rid of soda (poison water), and even start going for a run every day. Things seem to be improving, but suddenly you notice that your friends are starting to get weird. It’s like you’re shaming them for not taking responsibility for their bad diets by doing so for your own.

They start to gaslight you, make fun of you, call you a health freak (man, I hate that!). You know what needs to be done next.

You need to take responsibility for the fact that these people are even in your life in the first place. If you think about it, most of our friends are just friends by fluke. By chance. You didn’t choose them, mostly they’re just the people that stuck around, that happened to be in the same place as you.

Responsibility means ending those relationships that aren’t serving you anymore. Or maybe they never were.

It also means ending those inner thought patterns that no longer serve you. Many of us have experienced being ridiculed by the inner judge, depressive and anxious thought-cycles that seem designed to crush you.

Instead of going to a shrink and getting medication (which would be very irresponsible, to my mind, although I believe psychotherapy certainly has a place in all this), you decide to take responsibility for whatever’s going through your head at any given time.

That’s friggin’ hard to do!

This is where meditation becomes an invaluable tool. It’s really just a method of observing here, now. Instead of identifying with thoughts, as we usually do, you start to become aware of them as they come. With almost an outside view, a detached view of what is actually happening.

The more you sit down and just observe the thoughts going through your mind, the better you will understand what needs to change.

I try to meditate for an hour at a time, in the mornings and evenings, two hours daily. Sometimes this isn’t possible, but I try to make time for an hour of meditation at minimum. I’ve kept this up, on and off, for a few years, and the results would have been unimaginable to me before.

The main thing is to start where you are. I’m not suggesting that you start meditating two hours a day right now. You won’t be able to keep it up, and it would probably be detrimental to you in the long run. When I started, I literally did meditations lasting one or two minutes at a time. And that felt like a long time of sitting still to me!

That’s where I needed to start. It may be where you need to start.

In a world where nobody takes responsibility for themselves, you will be one in a million. You will become valued by everybody around you. People will trust you, and they will depend on you.

Every moment, you have a chance to change your life to the better. Don’t worry about missed opportunities, because every moment is an opportunity.

The future is now, as they say. What you decide now will create the future. The future is nothing but the result of our decisions in the present.

I’ve decided to go fully on board with this philosophy. The fact is, the way you do anything is the way you do everything. Meaning, do everything as well as you can, and you can do anything well. I look forward to keep discovering the benefits of this mindset for myself.

I’ll end with a particularly poignant quote:

You cannot hope to build a better world without improving the individuals. To that end, each of us must work for his own improvement and, at the same time, share a general responsibility for all humanity, our particular duty being to aid those to whom we think we can be most useful.

Marie Curie

Good luck on your journey.

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The paradox of pain

The paradox of pain

The last two years of my life have been intensely painful, physically and mentally. In fact, they’ve been so painful that I was forced to deeply examine my relationship with pain and attempt to change it drastically.

In the summer of 2016 I was thrown suddenly into a terrifying chronic illness which changed my life.

I was no longer able to sleep at night due to constant, bone-deep itching like I’ve never known before, and then the accompanying pain after I’d literally torn my skin off with my nails, bleeding all over, and in the end I would fall into a fitful sleep early in the morning out of pure exhaustion.

Itch is a strange phenomenon. It’s arguably more intense than regular pain, since we tend to try to counteract itching with pain.

Anything to stop the itch

To be fair, normally people don’t get itches that are strong enough to warrant real pain, but I promise that if it gets intense enough you’ll do anything to stop it.

Although the itch may have been more intense, the pain I felt day in and day out all over my torn up body was a sort of chronic, high level burning sensation.

I often felt like a burn victim. It was that bad. I would lie in bed, staying completely still. If I could do this for long enough, the pain would subside slightly and I could calm myself down. If I moved an inch, the wounds and sores would open up again, causing me great pain and even more itching.

And when something commands your attention every waking moment as chronic pain does, you have two options if you want to try living a regular life : you can medicate it away as I did frequently (although I used weed instead of poisonous over-the-counter pain medication), or you can re-examine the way you react to pain.

Change your relationship to pain

At first I refused to face my pain, and I would look for activities absorbing enough to let me forget about it temporarily like video games and porn, and later with good old marijuana.

In essence, physical pain isn’t that different from emotional pain. We seek relief in many forms. We use porn, gambling, alcohol, weed, video games, sugar, and television to help us escape, to help us forget our pain, whether emotional or physical.


At the core of it, we’re talking about avoidance versus acceptance. In the end, I finally did admit to myself that if I wanted to avoid going absolutely insane, I would have to face what was happening to me and try to accept it.

What is pain?

I began by trying to understand what pain actually is. What the hell is it, really? The most obvious answer is that it’s a bodily mechanism that alerts us to damage being done on a physical level. Not much help there.

It’s also a concept that makes us very uncomfortable and that we avoid talking about. We’re getting closer to a model of pain that we can work with.

Life is all about perception. There is no ultimate reality, only our various perceptions of reality. In other words, in some sense we create reality. So pain, as terrifying as it is, is only as horrific as we allow it to be. If we can change our relationship to it, we can change its essence.

It’s all in the mind you see. I know that’s a cliché, but as you know, clichés exist for a reason. When I started really delving into the nature of my relationship to pain, I discovered some very liberating truths.

My greatest epiphany regarding the problem of pain, is that pain is a bodily sensation. This is a powerful concept, because as a sensation, pain has no real power to harm us. Just as we can choose how we react to sadness, anger, craving and itching, we can choose how we want to react to pain.

Pain and mindfulness

This is one of the precepts of mindfulness practice. Many sufferers of chronic pain, myself included, have discovered the incredible benefits of mindfully observing painful sensations.

In the here and now, there is no pain, technically speaking. “Pain” is a concept, and as such it resides on the mental plane exclusively. When we remove all our negative mental connotations that we’ve accumulated over the years, via family and friends, television and the culture we grew up in, what’s left?

What’s left is the essence of pain. The nucleus of the concept of pain. It can’t be spoken of, not really, because speech relies heavily on conceptualization. It’s ineffable.

The most powerful tool for dealing with pain

Mindfulness is a very powerful tool, or rather a mindset. It simply refers to experiencing reality directly in the present moment, instead of relating to experience mentally, as we usually do. We think of future events, or past events, or we think endlessly about the meaning of things that happened five minutes ago, or the likelihood of things happening five minutes from now. But we don’t ever think about what’s happening right now. The now can only be experienced directly.

Mindfulness takes us from a place of identification with pain, to a place of detached, or I should say non-attached observation. To be clear, I don’t mean to say that the pain actually goes away, rather that our capacity to deal with it improves. More specifically, our relationship to pain can change. It can change to the point that we only feel pain, without suffering.

“Detachment means letting go and nonattachment means simply letting be.”

Stephen Levine

We often feel like pain and suffering are one and the same, but there’s a massive distinction: pain is a sensation, suffering is a thought.

As such, pain may be inevitable, but suffering can be overcome by various forms of mental training.

Sitting with the pain instead of avoiding it

This is a different path that many don’t understand.

When I discovered the potential of mindfulness for changing my relationship with pain, I started doing a lot of strong-determination meditation sittings, which consist of sitting perfectly still for long stretches of time, without reacting to pain or discomfort. They are incredibly difficult, and incredibly rewarding. I would normally sit for 30-40 minutes at a time.

Pain2Only once have I managed to sit for an entire hour without moving, and it was a truly transcendental experience.

Simply observe

The pain had become incredibly intense, and my mind was screaming with frustration, but I wouldn’t give in.

And the more I directed my attention to the painful areas to directly experience the sensations of pain, the more I realized that that’s just what it was : Sensations of pain.

Our reactions to pain may seem absolutely determined, but in fact they are our own choice. The name we give to that choice is suffering.

We all instinctively know the difference between pain and suffering. If someone punches you in the face and breaks your nose, you’ll inevitably feel a lot of pain. But it’s the fear, confusion, and anger at the person who punched you that causes you to suffer.

Who dies?

The book Who Dies? by Stephen Levine really got me to think about pain in a completely different way. It’s one of the most poignant and profound books I’ve ever had the pleasure to read.

“If there is a single definition of healing it is to enter with mercy and awareness those pains, mental and physical, from which we have withdrawn in judgment and dismay.”

-Stephen Levine

Overcoming our fear of pain in this way is truly liberating, and has numerous benefits. I believe that one form of enlightenment may be found in the person that has transcended the fear of pain altogether.

A few of my own observations from working with and accepting the place of pain in my life:

Reduced Fear in General

When you’ve sat through an hour of stabbing pain in various parts of your body, or your daily life is brandished with a painful chronic illness, the numerous fears that we feel towards all kinds of things may start to diminish.

In my own life, I’ve discovered that I’m way less worried about humiliating myself, so I’ve started putting myself out there in many ways. For instance by starting this website. The old judgmental part of my mind that shouts “But what if what I write isn’t good enough and nobody wants to read it and everybody will laugh at me and I’ll be exiled and forced to live in the wilderness…” and so on, can be effectively countered with “I’ve had worse”.

I’ve also seen that fear of failure has greatly diminished. All fear is rooted in pain, be it emotional or physical. Fear of failure is actually a fear of the pain that accompanies failure, like humiliation (see above) or blows to our self-esteem.

A Drive to Live a Meaningful Life

Thank god my chronic pain didn’t last forever. In the last month or so it has rapidly gotten better. So much better that I’m finally able to exercise again, to sleep through the night, and to go out and about without being constantly distracted.

The most powerful result of my work with pain has been this powerful desire to live my life exactly as I want to.

Partly because I now know by direct experience that health is fickle, any number of things could happen to me and life is too short to waste it on worrying about consequences. But also partly because I know that I can handle whatever the universe throws at me. I know that nothing that happens to me can actually break me, especially if I keep cultivating my insights on pain and reality.

An Unobserved life is not worth living

There are some harsh truths inherent in the fabric of human existence. Pain is abundant. It’s everywhere.

People die in agony every single day. Many people lead lives that are so physically painful that it’s unimaginable to those of us blessed with good health. Pain is as much a staple of being human as is being born, loving, and dying.

Even those of us born with a healthy body and healthy mind will know pain at some point in our lives. If you haven’t already experienced some kind of storm in your own life, there’s certainly someone close to you who has.

This is just an inextricable part of being human. We’re playing this human game, and pain is an aspect of that game, whether we like it or not.

It’s funny, I took a course in Vipassana (insight) meditation a while back. The teacher told us that every now and then, a student would come to her after much meditation and strong determination sitting and tell her that he had actually started enjoying the aches and pains of sitting for an hour.

The game

We can make a game of it. We just have to be open to the possibility that pain isn’t what we always thought it was. You can start catching your mind, Ah I see, an old thought pattern of aversion is coming up. Is it anchored in reality? Or is it a mental creation?

Just think of the potential benefits of doing this! The fear of pain and suffering can limit us in so many ways, but when we start to question the fabric of this fear, we find that doors start to open to us. We start to open our minds and hearts to unheard of possibilities and potential changes in our reality.

With an open heart and an expanded mind, we become unstoppable. Fear can no longer crush our spirits, and pain can no longer hold us down. We will cease to suffer.

When we stop avoiding the things that scare us the most, like pain, we find that it leads to a feeling of wholeness. A feeling of acceptance of the nature of things.

When we fully accept pain, a paradox will become apparent to us:

Pain only causes suffering because we allow it to do so.

Much love.

The difference between pain and suffering (and how it can save your life)

Today I want to explore the topic of crisis. More specifically the inevitability of crisis, and what we can learn from that inevitability.

You see, there are few certainties in life. Very few. The fact that things will keep changing, that is a certainty. The fact that you will die is another. But the one that keeps many of us on our toes is that at some point, we will experience disaster in our lives, and suffer for it.

It’s scary, but it’s also true.

We tend to marginalize this idea, thinking that sure, it happens to people all the time, but it won’t happen to me.

We’re good at ignoring important stuff. It’s just a funny coincidence (or is it?) that the most important stuff in life is also the scariest.

I know you may not want to think about pain if you can help it, but I’m telling you, you need to make time to contemplate this fact. The reason I say that is because ignoring it will not make it go away. The more we come to terms with this reality of existence, the smoother we can deal with the crises when they inevitably arrive.

It may not be obvious what this work of contemplating your own inevitable pain will actually give you, but I can tell you this, from my own experience: When I finally put the pieces together and understood this simple law of human existence, my general anxiety about life disappeared.

I don’t mean to say that I attained buddha-hood or something, although it can be viewed as a degree of enlightenment. I still go AHH! when something goes BANG!. I still get nervous when talking in front of groups of people. I still manage to worry about deadlines or tests at school.

What I’m no longer afraid of is pain.

This actually lead me to contemplating death as well, and soon my fear of death greatly diminished as well.

The two often go hand in hand. Understanding the former eases us into understanding the latter, but that’s a topic for another day.

The terrifying truth of human existence, is that people are constantly in pain. All the time. People are diagnosed with excruciating terminal illness every single day. Every day, people get into debilitating accidents, or get betrayed by someone they trusted, or lose a loved one.

This is a fact of life. The Buddha said it best: Life is suffering.

And I know at first glance this all seems absolutely, dismally pessimistic. Even nihilistic. But I say that ignoring the truth is infinitely more damaging and limiting than facing it, however scary it is. Monsters hide in a dark for a reason: What can’t be seen, cannot be understood. What cannot be understood is most terrifying of all.

We need to direct the searchlight of our awareness on these things in order to understand them, and when we do, peace follows.

So let’s start with my experience.

How did I come about this knowledge? By direct experience. A little over two years ago, my life was shattered. I discovered that I had developed a dependency on corticosteroids, a class of drugs used to treat inflammation of all kinds, and that they had stopped working for me. I had used them for years to treat my mild eczema.

However, what I hadn’t been told at twelve years old when I was first prescribed these drugs, was that prolonged use had major side effects, and worst of all, as the body became more dependent on them, there would be a need for ever stronger steroids.

I came to the point where the drugs no longer helped my skin condition except in very high doses, and my eczema seemed to have gotten so much worse over the years.

After a lot of research, I finally figured out what was going on. I was stuck in a positive feedback loop. You see, the corticosteroids are an analogue of a hormone produced naturally in the body, cortisol. When we infuse the body with artificial hormones, the body systematically reduces its own production of said hormone.

The result was that as I stopped using the medicines (I’m loathe to call them that, as intuitively I think of medicine as something that actually heals the body), my body went into full on withdrawal. Topical steroid withdrawal, as it’s called, or Red Skin Syndrome, which is the technical term.

A little further research revealed that this withdrawal was no short term thing. 2 to 5 years on average. I was devastated. To show you why, let me list some of the effects of withdrawal:

  • Intense shedding of skin. I had to sweep the floors in my bedroom every night, because of all of the skin flakes I had scratched off during the night. Think of the sand all over the floor after a day at the beach. This has lasted until the present day, although thankfully it’s gotten a lot less intense, and on fewer parts of my body.
  • Bone-deep itching red skin. My entire body became bright pink, and itched like you wouldn’t believe. I would scratch so much at night that I woke up glued to the sheets due to bleeding, oozing sores. The worst of this lasted for 18 months.
  • Severe lethargy, so that I had a hard time getting up out of bed at all. A big part of this was the insomnia I experienced due to the terrible itching and pain.
  • Nerve pain and “zingers”, meaning my skin was painful even where there were no sores, and I had these sort of heat cramps, like little zaps of electrocution.

I’ll leave it at that. I would say that despite the horror of these symptoms, what got to me the most was the trauma it entailed. I became deeply depressed, developed debilitating social anxiety due to my appearance (my face was swollen, red, and I had scratched off my eyebrows at some point), and generally felt like dying.

In fact, about 18 months in, I was seriously contemplating suicide. The pain and suffering was just so intense and miserable, and even though I (thankfully) knew that this was temporary, it already seemed like it had lasted a lifetime.

At that point I realized I had become fully burned out by staying in school that whole time when I should have just quit right away, so I stopped. That became the first step in regaining my health. I stayed home, slept a whole lot, read loads of books, meditated and journaled. This would be a complete turning point for me.

I started researching ways to optimize my diet for healing. I looked for ways to exercise that were possible for me in this condition. I started to really try to figure out what life meant to me, and what I wanted to get out of it. Did life have value to me, even if it meant this amount of unbearable pain?

Of course, I’m eternally grateful that after much contemplation, I decided that the answer to that question was a resounding YES.

Now that you know my story, let me tell you how I came to this not-too-obvious answer to life’s most terrifying question.

This is an axiom that changed my perception of existence to it’s core:

Pain is a given, suffering is a choice.

If that doesn’t shake your reality tunnel, then you’re more enlightened than you think.

This isn’t obvious, not by a long shot. So allow me to elucidate.

Pain cannot be avoided. Pain will be experienced in life, in varying amounts, to various degrees of intensity.

It can manifest as physical pain, like burning your fingers on the stove, or a car accident, or chronic illness, as in my case. I know you can easily find more ways in which we feel physical pain, so I won’t dwell on it.

It can manifest as mental or emotional pain as well, as in cases of betrayal or great loss, like the death of a parent, sibling, or spouse.

It’s strange, but in many cases we wouldn’t want to remove our pain, even given the chance. My grandfather died a few months back. We were quite close and I loved him dearly. The pain of his absence is what reminds me of what a kind, loving, solid human being he was. It reminds me to miss him.

In the same way, physical pain teaches us to appreciate the times in our lives when we were in good health. I can tell you this much: I will never look at my health in the same way again. I took it for granted once. Now it’s my most valuable asset of all.

Good health is one of those things you don’t even notice until it’s gone.

Pain takes many forms, as we’ve explored here. But what about suffering?

Well, first off, what’s the difference between suffering and pain? Simply put, pain is the event, suffering is the response. What does that mean?

Thus spake a wise soul, eons ago:

I may not be able to control the winds, but I can adjust my sails.

When we’re faced with dire circumstances, we usually have multiple options for responding to the situation. We can run and try to escape (literally by physically running off, or figuratively by for example depending on drugs to escape reality), we can freeze and submit, or we can stand and fight. We can even accept what’s happening and decide to make the best of it.

When most people are faced with disaster, they have no idea how to respond. That’s because they’ve consciously ignored the inevitability of crisis their entire lives!

How can you expect to weather out a storm if you haven’t even thought about the possibility of it ever coming to that?

Let me throw another great quote at you:

Life isn’t about trying to outrun the storm, it’s about learning to dance in the rain.

So here you are. You’ve had an accident. Or you’ve been diagnosed with a chronic illness. Or you find out your wife or husband has been cheating on you for the last two years. Or your sister just died.

If you’re anything like I was before my own midnight of the soul, you’re in for a very difficult time. Your entire paradigm of the world around you and your place in it will crumble down all around you. What you thought was stable and eternal suddenly seems ephemeral and fleeting.

To be totally honest, I’m not sure if these insights on the nature of pain and suffering can ever be gained without having actually suffered greatly. But the fact is that most of us have, at some point in our lives. Everybody knows what suffering is. Nobody is naturally immune to it. The only difference is how you decide to respond to your pain.

If you decide to dull your pain, escape your misery, you will be just as susceptible to suffering, if not more so, when the next wave strikes.

If, however, you decide to face the thoughts, feelings, and sensation full on, contemplate them, fully feel them, you will gain insight. And through insight, you will become wise. That wisdom will be there for you when you inevitably meet with the next life-crisis.

There’s no trick to this. It’s not easy, but it’s overwhelmingly simple. There’s a lot of fluff surrounding meditation, contemplation, spirituality, but for this life, for the here and now, there’s no need to complicate things.

Sit with your pain, with the conscious intention to understand it and explore it, no matter how terrifying and repugnant it seems to you, and you will be taken to a better place. Your relationship with pain itself will change, and you will transcend suffering.

This takes a lot of work, make no mistake. This is no quick fix. You need to work at everything. Your mentality and attitude, your self-discipline. But rest assured, this is the way to permanently overcome your anxiety towards life.

Taking on this work entails so much more than that, though. You will find that, as your relationship to pain and suffering changes, so will your attitude to life as a whole. As your fear of suffering diminishes, so will your fear of expanding. You will become open to experience in a way that you weren’t before.

You may find yourself following your own bliss, without caring if others judge you for it. You will become more compassionate, doing all you can to alleviate others’ suffering and teaching them to change their own relationship to pain.

You will stop being afraid.

You can partake in life without being hung up about it. You can have fun instead of fretting.

This approach to suffering is ancient. Many attribute it to the historical Buddha Gautama, but it’s older than that. Way older. The Buddha himself relates that he “rediscovered” a technique that had been lost for millennia. Others have done it before us, and more will do it after we’re gone.

In Buddhism and other eastern traditions, this approach is called Vipassana or variations thereof.

The word itself is Sanskrit and simply means “insight into the nature of reality”. It relates to direct experience, as opposed to knowledge gained from an external source.

Mindfulness, as it has been popularized here in the west, is  another approach (which is essentially the same). To call mindfulness a tool is misleading. Instead, it is an all-encompassing approach to existence, in favor of directly experiencing the sensations and events of here, now, as opposed to constant thinking.

The primacy of direct experience is undeniable. We can read, listen, and learn all we want, but in order to fully grasp anything, it must be experienced. Knowledge is power, in every way.

Know thyself, said Socrates.

The better you understand what it means to be a human incarnate in this place at this time, the better time you’re going to have playing this game. The game of life. I believe self-knowledge should be the prime imperative of any human being.

If you learn anything from this article, let it be this:

You are more than the sum of your parts.

In our modern, materialist-reductionist paradigm, we tend to overlook the simple fact of our consciousness. Of our awareness.

You have a body, and a brain, and a mind. You have friends, a job, a personality. But the fact is, you are so much more than all of that.

It can’t be explained, so I’ll stop there.

In conclusion, I will say this: Start to meditate.

Start as small as you have to. One minute, five minutes. Then gradually increase the time. Find guided meditations. There are plenty out there. Stop being reluctant to be fully present with your pain.

It will save your life.