The first noble truth in Buddhism is that there is suffering.
At first, that seems obvious.
Every life has its sorrows, some many more than others.
Atrocities are happening all over the world.
Accepting that “bad stuff happens to good people” can be a balm.
This isn’t the only kind of suffering, though, that the Buddha was talking about.
The process of becoming an adult invariably leaves psychic wounds… deep-seated fears that left unexamined can distort a life.
These fears feel like they’re about the future, but they are really about the past.
In Heidegger’s words: “The dreadful has already happened.”
The easiest way to deal with these wounds is to deny their existence, to not feel the pain that was and remains unacceptable.
It’s still there, driving us, but we choose to ignore it.
This unfelt suffering is the kind I suspect the Buddha was really talking about.
Accepting what once hurt, and feeling it fully, is the key to liberating ourselves from it, and then being free to make mature choices.
This is out of synch with a culture that tells us in various ways to put on a game face. Play to our strengths. Equate happiness with the absence of pain. Manage feelings with addiction and distraction.
We have to love ourselves—including our unacceptable or unfinished aspects—in order to love others fully. In the long run, loving other people is the only thing that reliably makes us happy.
Paradoxically, accepting our own suffering, opening to it, befriending it, and learning from it is the only way to find lasting peace and equanimity.