Here’s a good amount of blathering on some thoughts I’ve been wanting to blather about for a while.  I just finished (by recommendation) Anne Lamott’s book Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life, which sort of reminded me I wanted to blather about these thoughts.  It’s a good book, though it’s really not as much about the craft of writing as the other books I mentioned in my last post are.  In many ways it’s more about life philosophies and how they relate to writing.  It’s extremely funny at times, and has some very poignant moments.  I’m not sure I agree with all of Lamott’s thoughts, but it might just have to do with my interpretation of her words.  She almost seems to encourage people to delve into their sufferings for material; to bathe in the unpleasantness they’ve experienced in their life for their writing.  While I do agree with a lot of the other things she says (and really enjoy how poetically and humorously she says them), the suffering issue somewhat inspired this post.

These thoughts are somewhat random… I’m not sure I’m trying to make any overall point, I’m just making observations and suggestions to myself for the most part.  Hopefully it won’t sound too corny.  But let’s face it: deep down in our hearts we’re all corny and sentimental.  (Get it?  Cuz that’s, like, sentimental right there?)  Anwyay, here I go:

Suffering can’t be compared

I think everyone suffers.  And I don’t think suffering can really be compared because we can only ever be one person.  When someone says or thinks something like “I have suffered more because I have been so ill all my life” or “I grew up with such and such a life and such and such happened to my family and nobody else can know what’s that like” or even “oh, I am clinically depressed and take medication for it, so it’s clear I suffer more than most!” … I think that’s one of the highest forms of arrogance.  It’s such a ridiculously huge assumption.  I think you can know someone for years and years and never know how they’ve suffered.  I guess the main thing I don’t like about such an assumption is: why does it matter?  Why do some people have to compare their suffering to others?  Are people who suffer more better?  Are they more deserving of good things?  Even if we could journey into other people’s minds and find out how much suffering there is, what would we want that to change?  People who suffer more get bigger paychecks and better houses?  People who don’t suffer as much should be punished so suffering is equal for everyone?

Anyway, the point is, I think suffering is non-comparitory.  We can’t journey into other people’s minds, and I think it’s stupid to assume one can assess another’s level of suffering by anything else.

Who cares if you suffer?

Since I think everyone suffers, and I don’t particularly like suffering myself, why should I care about someone else’s suffering?  That said, I think it’s natural for us to care about each other as people, and if someone we know well is obviously in a lot of pain we’ll want to ease it if we can.  But that’s not because we’re interested in that person’s suffering, it’s because we’re interested in that person.  We don’t like that person’s suffering.  We’re not interested in it, we want to get rid of it because it’s annoying and it can spread.  Would anyone want to be around a friend who’s just gloomy all the time?  I doubt it.  I think we naturally try to avoid such people, they don’t make us feel very good.

A suffering character

Though I don’t much care for the suffering of others, when I’m reading a fictional story, something really weird happens.  I’m not sure what the psychological reasons are behind it, but I want the main character to suffer.  If the main character goes around happy for the entire story and experiences no conflict at all, I feel that the story is rather empty.  If I don’t care for other people’s suffering, and if I don’t like suffering myself, how come when the story is fictional I all of the sudden desire it?

Maybe some other part of my mind does want to suffer after all, but it wants to suffer with the meaning a good story can provide.  It wants to suffer for something, for some cause.  I already know I’m going to suffer in real life anyway, so why not use stories to daydream that there’s a worthy cause for all this suffering?

The suffering artist and letting it out

I know there are plenty of artists who use art as a way to “release their emotions” … I guess it’s kind of a self-therapy.  I guess whether or not such an act is useful depends on how it’s done.  I think sometimes it can help the artist find answers to his problems.  I like to think that writing literature is, in a way, searching for answers within oneself.  That might sound corny, but I think it’s really true.  Where else are you going to find any moral answers you can believe in?  (That’s not an argument for moral relativism, by the way!)  But I think “letting it out” can also help an artist to continue to hurt himself if the artist becomes dependent on such feelings to produce art, if that makes any sense, or if it just encourages the artist to dwell on terrible feelings.

Personally, I think when I’ve been really miserable, I’ve used art more as a way to “keep stuff in” … to get my mind off it, to be able to focus on something else.  I don’t like remembering the bad times, I don’t want to use them as fuel for my art.  When I look back on my art, I don’t want to be reminded of the bad times that inspired it.  That said, I still think every memory, good or bad, will influence my work whether I like it or not.  And I can’t very well write about a character suffering if I don’t recall some of my own suffering.  But I guess I use art more to “search for answers” (like I said above) and to sort of escape the suffering and let my mind go to a different world for a while more than I use art for making any sort of record of my suffering.

Dreams can be stupid

I don’t know how it emerged, but at some point having a “dream” became a very romantic thing.  Children are raised being encouraged to “follow their dreams” and even adults are encouraged to continue to pursue them.  Woah!!  Doesn’t it matter at all what the dreams are?  I think it does.  I’ve talked to artists who long dreamed of becoming rich and famous, of having their work influence thousands or millions.  And then their dream doesn’t come true and they become bitter and think about giving up.  I guess the real problem is that it became more of an expectation than a dream.  It became something they expected to achieve, and something they were depending on to find happiness.  That’s just stupid!! I can understand the natural desire to want fame and fortune, but if you’re secretly expecting such things and depending on them for happiness, you’re an idiot.  Just stop wanting them!  Stop!  Now!

Maybe their are two kinds of suffering: physical suffering that comes from nerve endings and such, and emotional suffering that comes from wanting.  Obviously we’ll always have to want something, like at least a next meal and to sleep every now and then and to have some air to breathe.  If we didn’t want and work towards things we need for survival we’d just sit there and die.  Some stuff we naturally want but we don’t really need to survive, like our loved ones to be around forever.  They die and we cry at their funerals, but that sort of suffering still comes from us wanting them.  Or as I mentioned earlier we naturally want others to not suffer.  So if a loved one is going through a particularly very rough time, that might make us suffer too, because we want them to feel better.  It all comes from us wanting stuff.  And then there’s the really unimportant stuff like wanting money and fame and this award and to be seen as that kind of person.  I guess that sort of wanting is natural too, but it’s the dumbest and most useless sort of wanting.  The sooner we can get ourselves to stop wanting such things, the better.  So if one of those bitter artists is thinking about giving up on their art because they’re not famous yet, I have a real tough time thinking of anything encouraging to say.  You shouldn’t be wanting such stuff!  Or at least you shouldn’t be depending on such stuff.

Being loved

Perhaps the desire for fame comes from the desire to be loved.  (And perhaps this is the source of relationship problems too?)  I think all humans have a natural desire to be loved, but it’s the oddest of desires because we can never really know whether or not we have it.  How can you tell if someone loves you?  I guess the most natural way to tell is attention.  So that’s why people want fame, that’s why people want attention.  It can be a sign of love.  And if you love someone else, how else can you show that love besides giving that person attention?

But they’re still two separate things, love and attention.  Love is something you do in your brain; it’s a silent act and you don’t have to move any of your limbs.  I think in many ways it can also be unconscious, or subconscious.  It’s not often (at least, I’m guessing) you sit there totally thinking only about your love for someone else (though it might be a good exercise), but then when that person leaves forever or dies, tears can just come out of nowhere, and you suddenly realize how much that person meant to you, even though you didn’t consciously realize it.  (Perhaps love itself is a form of wanting?  A wanting for interaction with or dependence on that person?)  Attention, on the other hand, is something you do, something you give, with words or a listening ear or some gift or whatever.

Anyway, I think people can love you without giving you all the attention you crave.  And I think people can give you attention without loving you.  So, while love might be expressed by attention, I don’t think attention is necessarily always an honest sign of love.  Therefore: stop wanting attention!  I think that’s a huge challenge, but I still don’t think it’s a very good thing to want.  Not that it’s something you should reject, of course.  But if you have it, don’t trick yourself into thinking it always means you’re loved.  And if you just want to be loved, just realize there’s never going to be any way you can really tell whether or not someone really loves you.  It’s something you’re just going to have to believe in.  And if it’s all up to your faith, you shouldn’t need the attention anyway.

I guess I could also say: stop wanting to be loved!  But I think that’s a good thing to want, and I think it’s perhaps the only thing that it’s impossible to not want.  But it’s not something we can ever really know we have from others, not in this world at least, so the most we can do is give ourselves the faith that we are as loved as we want to be, even if we don’t feel we’re getting any attention at all.  We shouldn’t need the attention.

A bad place

I suppose another thing that can cause a lot of suffering, besides physical pain and wanting stuff, is being in a bad place.  Actually, I suppose that is a form of wanting something: you want to be out of that place.  But there’s a lot less you can mentally do about it.  Trying to stop yourself from wanting the things I already mentioned is hard enough.  What if you’re stuck somewhere?  I really don’t know.  I guess you just have to hold on to something until you’re able to get out.  Sometimes a place is the problem (or a person is the problem).  I can’t think of much else to do besides trying to get out of there as soon as possible and in the meantime just doing all you can to get you’re mind off it.

Whew, thank you for reading all that.  All that philosophy or whatever it was (blather, I guess) tired me out.


LanthonyS · March 17, 2009 at 5:23 PM

Hey, Sean! Thought I’d write an equally long comment. (I hope it doesn’t feel like you’re writing blog posts only to me…) I’ll just add to/observe each of your sections.


First, the book itself. Yeah, I didn’t align with her worldview much either. The notes I had to write on each chapter for Writer’s Craft class attest to that. But the writing stuff is probably good. Admittedly, I haven’t read a lot on writing. I’d agree that she’s sticking a lot of her life on paper, and making associations to writing, rather than just commenting on writing (or even the reverse of the former). And the title’s pretty reflective of that.

As to the comparison of suffering. I think there’s a goldmine to be delved in that subject … On one level of analysis, yes, a person can’t have, you know, a unit of suffering: “50k tears in my bank,” etc… but there’re a lot of problems inherent in discarding relativity of suffering. In a practical sense, even if it’s philosophically or morally incorrect, we do have to assign a value to some sufferings. For example, a person was robbed of a TV—that’s, say, $500 they can sue for. Or another lost their wedding ring. Turns out it was a fake, worth $20, but on the other hand, they’d pay $100 000 for it. Or out in the woods yesterday, I tripped and bruised my hand on a root (it’s still smarting a little). Against somebody who, say, tripped five metres over and hit their head on a rock, I think that we can compare it. I’ve suffered much less.
But you say there’d be not much point in knowing the “value” of your suffering, because it doesn’t follow correctly to offer compensation for suffering (since, I suppose, it doesn’t “repair” ills; however great a fortune, you can’t pay someone for the twenty years they spent in jail, when it turned out they were innocent). However, I wonder, are we working from a base of “average”, and going toward “suffering” on one side and “bliss” on the other, from the mean? Or are we starting at a base point (say, “absolute destitution” on a continuum up to “perfect bliss”)? In that case, you can’t measure suffering, but you can sure measure blessing, and some people receive more.
Oh dear. That last sounds like rambling. Perhaps I can clarify it. A person living in a middle-class home might look at a rich person and say, “Well, I haven’t got a mansion and a pool, but I have got my wife and barbecue.” Contrariwise, a beggar might say, “I haven’t got either.” Was there a direct connection to the beggar’s behaviour or characteristic that ties to how much “good” they receive? We might call it a sin for the tramp to wish that a millionaire’s house burn down, but then say “wishful thinking”, not “sin”, for the tramp to wish he had a mansion. Why can we wish good but not evil?
Even more of a wrench, what if we throw in the fact that his having a mansion doesn’t aid millions of “suffering” people elsewhere?
The Book of Job comes to mind. It’s really pretty frightening if you take it truthfully. He never did anything evil, and yet he received a measure of suffering. And when his friends say, “You’re suffering? Obviously, you sinned,” he says, “Even if I can’t convince you of my innocence, then what about all the wicked people who are sitting pretty?”
I think I must have gotten far off of my point by now. What I mean is, to deal with “suffering” and, if you will, “blessing”, as not being comparable, you’d have to either absolve everything to an equal reference point, or have a lot of people who end up simply having been worse off.
A set of bandages is enough for my bruised, bleeding hand, but for the guy with the concussion, he’s going to die. How can you not adjust compensation, even for abstract cases such as you named?

A shorter response to “Who cares if you suffer?”.
I think you have it in “..we’re interested in that person.” But I wonder, how much can you differentiate a person and their suffering?… Everything we experience becomes part of our character, doesn’t it? You can’t just so easily separate a person from “suffering”. You can show them that they were mistaken, their dog isn’t dead, and that elicits a part of them which says, “Oh, this stimulus does not cause [feelings of sadness, loneliness, desperation, meaninglessness, etc]. In fact, by comparison, it causes [feelings of elation, relief, new purpose, etc].”
In fact, I think there must be a fallacy in using “suffering” as a noun at all… What does it mean for suffering “to be annoying and spread”? Doesn’t it just mean that a person in a miserable condition provokes a negative response in ourselves? Where is this “suffering”? They “are suffering”—they aren’t “afflicted by suffering”. Ironically, to use it as a noun there would imply a being-part-of-them sense (“they are [noun:] suffering”) ? .
I dunno. What does it mean to “get rid of a person’s suffering”? Does it mean to change them (apparently the one you love)? Or to change their circumstances?
In short: suffering is part of a person, not a separate entity. How do you effect changes to either?

A suffering character.
No expansion here, since the section is conjecture on yourself, not external absolutes.

Suffering and letting it out.
Another short one. Two points.
I do find that there is a “letting out” in my art, but not necessarily of suffering. Just of “emotion”, if it need come to trite terms. What I mean is, have you ever looked on something you consider really, absolutely, perfectly beautiful? (Let’s leave people out of this.) Say, the best piece of music ever, or the first time you really noticed nature and mistook it for God, or whatever poetic name you can give to such things. (I hope you’ve experienced something like this, or else the point is moot.) The thing is, one often finds oneself in tears at that point, or in the fullness of that experience…but certainly wouldn’t call it “sorrow”. Nor “joy”, for that matter. It’s just a welling-up, an overflowing—that most certainly has to be “let out”. Keeping it in busts the container.
Second, I don’t believe you can find answers “within yourself”, especially if you’re the one that’s lost, confused, sorrowful, mystified, etc. Who ever heard of a real question in which the answer was implicit? Answers to things you don’t know have to come from external sources. I don’t understand this;
“But I think “letting it out” can also help an artist to continue to hurt himself if the artist becomes dependent on such feelings to produce art, if that makes any sense, or if it just encourages the artist to dwell on terrible feelings.”
It seems to me that the artist who preserves the problem in themselves, or gains solutions to problems from a problematic source (themselves), is the one not going anywhere…

Stupidity of dreams.
Yes—I wholeheartedly agree with everything you say here.
I will add, however, that (and I’m sure this needs not be stressed), the principal can be the goal. …I mean that reaching out and working hard to achieve something is a good life lesson, and I’d let my kid buy, say, an incredibly stupid item, or even a detrimental one (say, a porn magazine), if he honestly worked hard labour every day for a year to afford it. I believe that in most cases,.. the lack of satisfaction in a badly-chosen goal will teach the lesson itself. If they worked hard for a stupid thing that won’t give them happiness, I trust the average person to realize the problem isn’t that they “worked too hard for it”.
And as for love, which I suppose will come up in the next section… I do think it’s a survival thing, for some people. I do believe in dying of a broken heart. Besides which, love can also be a vehicle… a person who loves you would feed you, shelter you, see to your protection. In that case, it’s not so much a thing to be desired in itself, but a requisite to being helped.
On the other hand, plenty of people have “affection” for others. I do think that’s simply “want”. On the other hand, I wouldn’t equate it with love. Real love calls for death and sacrifice.
Which brings me to another thing. If all emotional suffering comes from wanting, what would a believer do with “God”? He’s just an accessory that we don’t really need ? (After all, “God is love” …) On the other hand, you might say, “God created the world, of course we need him.” Maybe that was the start of the “God is dead” movement. However, I reject that; I would say that, not even on a physiological level, we do rely on our emotional needs, to some degree, for survival.
In short, again, our physical existence is not only dependent on our physical needs. (Nor, by extension, is our spiritual/emotional existence only dependent on our spiritual needs.)

Being loved.
Reading this section again, I see you elaborate on the difference I just mentioned between affection and love. No need for me to comment more. Good words.
I do, however, flatly find this wrong: “Love is something you do in your brain; it’s a silent act and you don’t have to move any of your limbs.” I don’t think it’s possible to love without exhibiting it: James 2:17, “In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead.” You can have that love, I guess, but it won’t have a point. I mean that love’s ultimate end—the benefit of the person/thing loved, surely—isn’t even achieved if you say, “Don’t worry about what the fact that I don’t enact my love in any way; I’m loving you, in my brain.” Similarly, elsewhere in the Bible it says, “Don’t wish your brother a blessed day and then leave him without a lunch.”
You also have to wonder about the motive behind love, in this case. Many [young?] lovers say things like, “I can’t help but love you,” or “I feel I have to love you… it’s unavoidable.” How is that love? At best, it’s magnetism of a south to a north pole, or a neutralization of acids and bases. But contrariwise, it’s also wrong to say “I choose to love you”! What if, tomorrow, you should choose not to love the person? There has to be some sort of conscious and unconscious choice, both, in love. As far as that goes, doesn’t that mean we have a responsibility to the fact of our love, and—
oh dear I lost that train of thought, or rather, the point of it
oh dear

And lastly, a bad place.
This just unsettles me… it chafes me to think that the solution to conflict is avoidance.
It’s unsettling because I know that answer has to be wrong—it’s just wrong—but I can’t think of a humanly possible way for both sides to remain what they are, and yet be reconciled. I mean, when it’s not just a matter of perception, but actual intolerability.

Oh yes! The point of my discourse above was that similarly, while being loved is hardly a thing that we consciously choose, our conscious choices do affect and even effect it. We don’t cause the others to love us, but they wouldn’t love us if we consciously did things a different way. Similarly, in Galatians 3:12, it says “The law is not based on faith; on the contrary, the man who does these things will live by them.” What I mean is,
er, what I mean is, that behaviour changes nature as much as nature changes behaviour.
Does that make sense?
That makes it partly our own attainable goal to be loved. We are the subject where we are also the object. … hmmm…


I think I’m done here, because my musings, though I may have made a lot of points and come to many conclusions, have probably already deviated enough from your thoughts. As usual, I intend to be inquisitive, not declarative, in these discourses.
Hope you enjoyed reading a post the length of a short story. (Grin.)

S P Hannifin · March 17, 2009 at 11:12 PM

Many thanks for the comments! (Wow, that’s a lot of comment!) 🙂

My response here will also be random/stream-of-conscious stuff, because I certainly don’t have any definitive answers for these topics, just thoughts and feelings about them at this point. And whenever I say “you” I am only using it in the general sense…

Comparitive suffering – I think even when you compare the physical suffering of a bruised or scraped hand to something like a big car crash, a severed limb, or a tumble off a cliff, all the comparing is done within you. In other words, you make the comparison entirely based on your own experiences. If you don’t actually have experience falling off a cliff, you still try to imagine what it might be like based on experiences. And for something like that it’s probably safe to say that falling off a cliff is usually more painful than bruising a hand. Though I have heard stories about when the brain feels so much unbearable pain, it can release chemicals or whatever to counter it and the person feels no pain at all. There have been people who get stabbed and they say “I didn’t even notice I was stabbed until I saw the knife” … which I find extremely creepy. But in such a case it may be that a bruised hand is actually more painful than a stabbed leg. So I still think you can’t really compare your pain to others, you can only compare your pain to pain you’ve felt before.

When you get into something like emotional suffering, comparing suffering becomes much more ridiculous, I think. I guess, again from experience, one might conclude losing a young loved one causes more suffering than having a loved one fall ill. But I still think one can ever say with any certainty how much some one else is suffering. By that I mean, you can have a very depressed college student who is secretly thinking of suicide, and you can have a soldier who lost a limb in a war and watched many of his friends die. Who has suffered more? I don’t think there’s anyway to know. In other words, I don’t think suffering is based only on outside forces. You can’t look only at what has happened in somebody’s life, only at their environment, to determine how much they’ve suffered.

When does it matter who suffers more? A court case is probably the best example. But what I was referring to in my post is when people try to compare their suffering to others just to have a better understanding of their own suffering. Well… you can’t. Someone might say “hmmm… have I suffered more or less than Sean Hannifin?” Well, how are you ever going to know? And… what would the answer mean?

Along the same lines, I don’t think you can compare “specialness” either, which is weird, because I think the word “special” is comparative by definition. But since you can only ever really see the world from your own perspective, you can’t really compare your “specialness” with others. I guess that’s another whole topic. 🙂

A part of me is tempted to say that just about everyone really suffers [emotionally] the same amount, no matter how drastically different life events can be. The illusion that one person suffers more than most I think comes from us comparing our own history of suffering within ourselves. Though, along those same lines, I think we can easily forget how much we’ve suffered as well, even if we try to remember, when some new suffering comes along and takes it’s place. So we can’t even really compare suffering within ourselves.

To be scientific about it, I think suffering is chemicals in the brain. There’s only a finite amount of suffering the brain can actually experience, actually handle. So what we think of our own suffering and how much we actually suffer become separate things.

Anyway, I guess my point was: don’t try to find value in your suffering by trying to compare your suffering to others. You just can’t really do it.

So, since we can’t really compare suffering, there really isn’t an “average” … or it’s not something that can be measured on a scale from “suffering a lot” to “bliss” … at least not in the sense of putting a lot of people on that scale.

As for having mansions and such, I don’t think it matters. Some might see a mansion as a good thing (including me, heck, I wouldn’t mind a mansion!) but in the end it doesn’t really imply anything about suffering. A millionaire in a mansion is perfectly capable of suffering just as much as anyone else.

(I’m not sure if I’m really addressing your original points, I’m just sort of saying what comes to my mind as I read your comments. 🙂 )

What I mean is, to deal with “suffering” and, if you will, “blessing”, as not being comparable, you’d have to either absolve everything to an equal reference point, or have a lot of people who end up simply having been worse off.

I guess what I’m trying to say is that … that it’s not relative at all. I mean, we can only really know about our own sufferings and we can only realize and appreciate blessings for ourselves. So the entire world I experience is the only one I can experience.

Maybe it’s like I have a secret book. I can see that everyone else has a secret book too, but I’m only allowed to look into and read my book. I can’t open anyone else’s. So how in the world can I say whether or not my book is harder to read? Or that mine has more words or pages? There’s just no way to compare the contents of my book to anyone else’s. But some people might assume that since I walk faster than them that their books must be heavier and harder to carry. But you can’t really make that assumption.

Or maybe it’s like having a sphere with a bunch of points on it. Which point is in the center? Well… all the points are surrounded by other points. There is no center. Or there are infinite centers. Everyone’s in the center, and no one is. You just can’t really compare “centeredness”.

Differentiating a person and their suffering – You’re right: suffering is a part of a person. I guess what I mean is, when you want someone to stop suffering, you really want to interact again with their other non-suffering self. In that sense, you want them to stop suffering for your own sake.

For suffering “to be annoying and spread” I mean that when you see a person suffering, you naturally suffer as well. I suppose it’s a psychological thing, we as humans naturally try to imagine the world from someone else’s point of view. It helps our survival as a species. So when someone is suffering we imagine why their suffering and that causes us to suffer as well. Perhaps not as bad as they’re suffering, because our suffering is coming only from our imaginations or memories, but we suffer nonetheless. So suffering spreads. “Annoying” perhaps wasn’t the right word to use, but I guess in a way suffering is annoying when it gets in the way of the things we want to feel instead. If someone is crying or shouting and throwing things in anger, the suffering is spreading, but for a different reason: the sufferer is being annoying.

Yeah, using suffering as a noun probably just complicates the issue, creating another way of thinking of it. To “get rid of suffering” I think changing the circumstances can help. The circumstances in turn change the sufferer from within. The sufferer perhaps just had a friend die. You change the circumstances by (in a way) by telling some jokes, providing “a shoulder to cry on”, or whatever. These help at getting rid of at least some of the suffering. So in that sense, I think you are changing the person…

Letting it out – Yeah, I was more or less talking about letting out negative emotions from particular events. I think all art is in a sense letting something out. You can’t create art without letting anything out at all. Well, I guess you can, but I can’t imagine that being very interesting for the artist. Perhaps what I meant was when I create art I tend to let out the feelings I want to feel more than just dwelling on my negative feelings. Or trying to combine my negative feelings with good feelings. But I don’t try to express any specific emotion that I’m feeling… I don’t try to capture anything in particular. I don’t get angry over a fight I just had and say “this story or this piece of music will express my anger; I will pour my negative energy into this!” Instead, I guess I say “that was a terrible fight, but this melody is beautiful, let’s play with it for a while or the world of this story is exciting, let’s live in it for a while”. Even when I do those things I have to use my emotions in some way, both good and bad emotions, and let them out in a sense, but I can’t look back on any work and say “ah yes, this piece or this story expresses the fight I had, or the depression I felt when such and such happened” … and I wouldn’t want to be able to do that. By the same token, I can’t say “ah yes, this piece or this story expresses the joy I felt when such and such” because all the joyous moments I’ve ever had and all the miserable moments I’ve ever had might find their way into any work of mine. For example, I’ve been told that some of my music sounds especially joyous and happy. But I wrote that music because I liked how it made me feel, not because there was a certain experience or emotion I was trying to capture. Having felt joy and pain before certainly might affect the work as it affects who I am, but there’s no solid link between any particular memory or thought and any piece of work, and I don’t think anyone can tell from my music alone how happy or sad I really am, or was at the time of composing. (Though I wonder how audiences might be affected by such knowledge if they knew.)

As for “finding answers within yourself” … I think you can only find answers within yourself, because you’re the one that has to choose whether or not to believe anything you’re told. You can still get external help, I think we need external help, but realizing any external source as being an answer is still up to us alone. It’s like doing a jigsaw puzzle: you don’t have the answer when you start, but you have what you need to find the solution, and you can find it yourself. No one has to tell you. Now I don’t think life is entirely like that, I think people can still give us pieces of the puzzle that we need, but we still have to put it together alone. No one can tell you those answers. To compare it to faith, no one can make you believe anything. It’s up to you. So writing I think is like working on that puzzle, and then maybe saying to the world “hmmm, I think this piece goes here.” (And the more of the puzzle you solve, the more pieces you realize are missing so the more confused you get. 😀 And people who aren’t very confused don’t have as many edges on their puzzles because they haven’t actually solved as much of it.) So people can still give you pieces or advice on where they go, but you actually have to move the pieces and find the answers yourself. So I think people with problems are still perfectly capable of solving their problems themselves. They might need help, but it’s not always a requirement.

If an artist is particularly depressed about something, I think using that terrible feeling to create art can be damaging because it might encourage the artist to just keep feeling that feeling. And then he wonders why he’s so miserable. Well, he was spending a lot of time and effort on observing his own miserableness, of course he’s miserable!

Wanting and suffering – though I still think perhaps all emotional suffering is caused by wanting, I don’t mean to imply that all wanting causes suffering. As I said in my post, some desires are necessary for life in the first place. I also think one can want material items and such unneeded things without necessarily suffering for it. Wanting a mansion by itself I don’t think is necessarily bad. It’s when that wanting becomes, I suppose, too much. When that wanting becomes dependence, when happiness becomes a price. Even wanting an achievement, like wanting to write a novel someday, isn’t bad. It’s when one begins to get a sense of self-worth based on whether or not he’s accomplished what he wanted that it can become damaging. But if that desire encourages him to work harder, then good for him, as long as the novel doesn’t become the most important thing in the world that he just causes himself more suffering; that he builds up the achievement to be more important than it should. Or perhaps the Academy Award. Lots of people dream of getting it, and I don’t think it’s necessarily evil to daydream of getting it, but when you start to think that you’re worth less as person because you don’t have one, and you believe having one will bring you happiness, then you’re just damaging yourself.

Along those lines, I think wanting love and wanting complete union with God can be very good desires that encourage you to work toward them. They don’t imply that you’ll be less happy while you don’t have them. Perhaps they can even make you happy because you feel good about pursuing them. But if you feel that you must be a terrible person because God seems like He’s ignoring you, if you want attention from God in the way a person gives attention, that can be damaging to yourself I think. That said, I don’t think lack of union with God prevents us from being happy. Though maybe we can’t be as happy as being in union with God would make us (obviously).

Along those same lines, I think truth is a very good thing to want, and one that we as humans are constantly pursuing, though we know we’ll probably never have it in this life.

Oh, and on a side note, I wouldn’t say all suffering is necessarily bad anyway, but I guess that’s a whole different subject. The point of life obviously shouldn’t be “avoid suffering at all costs” … because you can’t. It’s a part of life, and that’s not necessarily a bad thing. I mean, you might want a good thing, and you might have to suffer to get it, and I don’t think that’s bad in and of itself.

Being loved – though I agree that there are things you definitely would do if you truly love someone, I still think they’re separate entities. You could say “faith without works is dead” but that doesn’t imply “works implies a particular faith”. So I don’t think actions are love, but the whole understanding of attention going with love emerges because loving does imply that you’ll give attention, or whatever. But the link isn’t absolute. In other words, if you love someone, that doesn’t imply you’ll do any one particular thing. You’ll do something, for sure, it will definitely affect your decisions if you truly love that person. But you can’t work backwards from it. You can’t look at the decisions of others and honestly know anything about their motivation. Love will cause you do things, but love itself isn’t doing things. You can still do those same things without love. Love might manifest itself in some physical act, but love itself isn’t that sort of physical act.

As for whether or not love is a choice… whew! I guess that too is really another whole topic. In a sense, I don’t think it is a choice at first, but then you can choose what to do with that love. Do you ignore it? Squash it? Let it grow? Encourage it to grow? I guess in a way it’s like temptation (or any sort of wanting in general). You’re going to feel temptation whether you like it or not, just like you’re naturally going to want stuff. But do you follow them? Do you fight them? So I guess it’s a bit of both, both choice and natural uncontrollable feeling.

A bad place – I think sometimes you just can’t change your environment. If you’re in an abusive relationship for example, your spouse or your parents beat you, you can’t necessarily change that person. You can’t really solve the issue without changing your location, and you can’t really stop wanting to not be there. Even in a less serious case (though, uh oh, I’m comparing suffering) when some place just depresses you for some reason… maybe learning to accept the place would help, but mentally that act might just be too hard and the best solution is just to change places, saving time and energy. I don’t know, does that make sense? That’s sort of what I had in mind when writing the original post… that sometimes the solution is just to wait and get out. Perhaps another example might be going to war. How can one ever find peace on a battlefield? It might be necessary to bring about something else you desire, freedom or safety or whatever, but while you’re there on the battlefield, you can’t just start wanting to be there. I guess you could keep your mind on what you’re fighting for until you can stop fighting, but you can’t really just get your opponents to stop firing at you. A change of scene, getting off that battlefield, is the only way to stop suffering. At least, that’s the sort of thing I was thinking in the original post.

“Behaviour changes nature as much as nature changes behaviour” … yes, I think that makes sense. In a way, that’s how art and suffering can also go together… art influences suffering (or any emotion) as much as suffering (or any emotion) influences art. It’s a circle… and with some many people in the world, it’s a bunch of circles all tangled up.

All right, there’s my lengthy response… a lot of confusing stuff, but I think it’s all very interesting to think about. Thanks again for the comment!! 🙂

S P Hannifin · March 17, 2009 at 11:13 PM

Oh wow, didn’t realize how much comment that was too… hahaha… hope that isn’t all too annoying to read…

LanthonyS · March 18, 2009 at 8:51 PM

Thanks for the thoughts. I enjoy reading them.

Though my fingers beg me not to employ them in response, I’ll mention that I still chafe at finding answers within oneself, and at an incomparable suffering… on the other hand, I align with the thoughts about moving to a different feeling/place with art (rather than either of the phrases “let it out” or “keep it in”) and the image of the “infinite centres” (of relativity?).

[[[[In a total digression, that last reminds me of an interesting observation;
say we acknowledge that time is infinite, which, by our definition, it must be–there’s no “stopping point” at which the universe pauses… and even if it did… “for how long?” 😛
Then we say that we, as souls, must either be infinitely lasting or finitely lasting. Time being infinite, the first means we were here for infinity/infinity of its duration; the second means were here for 1/infinity of its duration, an infinitely small number.
The conclusion? We were either always here, or never here.]]]]

About a battlefield; well, it was hardly a battlefield before a battle took place there!

About suffering not all being bad… I thought on that for a little, but decided not to include it, especially when we have passages like Acts 5:41:
“The apostles left the Sanhedrin, rejoicing because they had been counted worthy of suffering disgrace for the Name.”

A sardonic grin follows.

Anyhow, that’s all for now, if there are any follow-up points I’ll be glad to join you in them.

S P Hannifin · March 19, 2009 at 10:01 AM

Interesting thought about time, I had never heard or thought of that… I don’t know if everyone agrees it’s infinite though. I guess it depends on how it’s defined. Time is very problematic because we are very restricted psychologically in how we can think of it, just as we are restricted from imagining a fourth spacial dimension. The big bang theory (by some definitions) deals with the beginning of both three (or perhaps more?) dimensional space and time, and if the universe ever returns to absolute zero, time would come to an end.

From a somewhat more solipsist viewpoint, you could say time only exists as long as you do. Like colors, it must be perceived to exist. Or a less solipsist viewpoint in which you recognize that time perhaps has always gone on, but you’re on your own time line at the same time, starting when you were born; that’s when time for you started. The billions of years (or more) that came before you didn’t really exist for you because you were not conscious to perceive them. You didn’t have to sit around waiting to be born, no time ever passed for you before you were born.

And so, from that viewpoint, if there is no afterlife, then after you die, time will cease to exist and it will be equal (as far as I can tell) to you not having existed at all. And while that may be a scary thought, it can’t truly be thought, because our brains are really incapable of imagining not existing.

For the battlefield, I guess my point was more that just one soldier can’t do much about it being a battlefield. If others are determined or see it necessary to be a battlefield, that’s what it will be.

Now that I think of it again, I don’t want to say that some suffering is good. It might be necessary to bring about good, and therefore might be considered good, but it’s never really good in and of itself. (Uh… that might have been too obvious to say.)

Thanks for the comments!! 🙂

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