if you haven’t read the art of happiness by his holiness the dalai lama and dr. howard cutler, i highly recommend it. as i was reading one section the other day, i was taken by the discussion of the reason the sensation of pain is important. in the section of the book entitled “dealing with pain,” cutler cites pain: the gift that nobody wants by dr. paul brand. brand, as retold by cutler, recalls his early experiences of treating lepers in india. because the disease had robbed his patients of the sensation of pain in their extremities, they were often injured by wounds that became infected or by burns. the pain that would have warned them of dangerous situations was absent, and this led to injuries that could have been rendered much less serious or avoided altogether.
this section of the book prompted me to think of the effects of some other unpleasant sensations and emotions, of the “yin and yang” of human existence. is it possible to understand joy without experiencing sadness? can there be happiness without suffering? does peace have meaning if one has not been exposed to conflict? it seems that we are able to experience the full range of human emotions in order to see the differences between those that are desirable and those that are not. in order to benefit from the positive, there must be a negative. those who say that the suffering in the world proves that there is no God, i think, miss the point. suffering is caused by our own actions, and when we allow negative emotions--greed, lust for power, desire, and the like--to become the focus of our lives, suffering for ourselves and others is the result.
when we recognize that it is our own failure to turn from those undesirable, limiting emotions and work to eliminate them while embracing positive emotions--love, compassion, generosity--our own suffering and that of others is lessened. the great gift of God is that we are given the freedom to make that choice. my prayer for us this day is that we exercise the freedom we are given to turn from those things which increase suffering and embrace those which lead to happiness.