In high school, I became enamored with Jack Kerouac’s books and the idea of experiencing suffering as a beautiful part of life. He wrote about giving up his worldly possessions, sharing with others what little money he did make, living out of boxcars and drinking cheap blackberry wine when he could find it.
I was a comfortable suburban kid. Nothing to be ashamed of. But I wanted to see what I was made of. Could I experience some minor suffering and see the joy in it?
Life is hard. Suffering is part of life. But when you take a step back, there’s beauty in all of it. That’s the idea anyway.
So I stopped sleeping in my bed. I’d roll out a thin blanket on the floor and sleep there every night. I was 17 or 18 at the time. I did this for months.
And occasionally I fasted. For a day or two at a time. I was really good at it. I’d only drink water. No food. And a glass of juice once a day for energy.
I started getting into tattoos. Nothing crazy. Nothing that would be seen in a job interview. But I’ve spent probably 12 hours total under the needle. That’s the kind of pain you remember for a while.
I learned a lot about myself. I learned my physical limits. And I did see beauty through the pain.
I think there’s a lot to say for testing oneself. Forcing yourself to find time to work out. Putting in extra effort at the office. Eating healthy, even when you want something else. Facing your fears.
Test yourself (in a safe way) from time to time. It can really help bring things into focus.
There’s a cliche that goes something like “without evil, there would be no good”. You could take it to mean that without pain, there would be no pleasure. But I think there’s another way to look at it. There is always both. The only reason it’s fair to say “life is suffering” is because life is truly everything. Life IS. Might as well live it.