Suffering is a choice

I had arrived early at the small and charming village at the foot of the mountain that houses the monastery. All seemed sleepy on its ancient streets when, much to my surprise, or almost, I see the old bicycle of Loureiro, the shoemaker who loved books and wines, leaning against the light pole in front of his shop. His hours of operation were unpredictable and unlikely. We never knew when we would find it open. I was received with joy and a sincere smile. My friend had just made a fresh pot of coffee; we sat at the counter with two steaming cups for an idle chat. The elegant craftsman mended leather by trade; sowing life with the threads of his unique philosophy was his art. On that day it was no different. Once again he left me disconcerted with the unexpected. The shoemaker told that one of his nieces, his sister’s daughter, had just left the shop. She was much shaken because her husband had decided to dissolve the marriage. She had come over for consolation, seeking an idea that would serve as a flashlight to illuminate her steps.  I asked if she had felt better after talking to her uncle. Then Loureiro startled me: “I don’t think so. In fact, she left worse than when she arrived. But in time she will understand what I tried to explain.” I wanted to know what he had said to relieve her affliction and that had triggered the opposite effect. Loureiro answered naturally: “All suffering is a choice.”

No wonder! I asked if my wise friend had gone mad. What kind of advice was that? Who in their right mind would choose to suffer? The craftsman, collectedly, sipped his coffee and said: “All those who cannot yet see beyond the haze of illusion.”

He made a brief pause and added a remark: “I just want to make it clear. When I talk about suffering, I do not mean physical pain, for instance from a broken leg. I am talking about suffering that comes from emotional fractures, those who shake and drown the soul in a sea of unnecessary tears.”

“You must understand that the purpose of the Path is to better the walker, to teach him how to be happy, to provide him with perfect inner balance, to be fully harmonious with the world, however with no type of external dependency. To be solidary and independent at the same time. Independent for not allowing anything or anyone to disturb his peace. If his composure is stolen, this means he has yet to learn the necessary lessons to move on. On the other hand, he is solidary for understanding the need to always share his best without expecting anything in return. On the following day, with his awareness in full expansion, he will give a little more and will expect even less. This practice heals and transforms. This is the Law of Love, one that is included in the Unwritten Code. The conflicts are the lessons; the choices are the pens with which we write the examinations.”

I said he was delusional. I used as examples the many situations that arise unwillingly in the lives of everyone, and cause suffering. The death of a loved one, diseases, unemployment, emotional separations, among others. Loureiro was not shaken: “The situations emerge in the precise measure of the learning that is required at that moment for personal evolution. The issue is not the problem itself, but how you react to it. This may either complete a cycle of lessons or have you repeat them. It will all depend on your choices. Period. They define who we are and the conditions of the next stretch of the Path.”

I argued that theory is always flawless; practice, however tends to be quite complicated. The shoemaker shook his head and said: “In fact, how hard the problem is tells a lot about you. The first step is to understand that each one will face the conflicts in the precise measure of what they need to learn. Life is perfect for being imperfect. This is the method through which it improves. Learning the way we react to problems determines the conditions of the journey and who will keep us company; the bridges, the cliffs and the landscape we find are the second step. Realizing that the choices are the only tools available means you have to use your personal magic. Magic is transformation. This is the third step, and it has the alchemic power of transmuting lead into gold, this means, replacing agony with peace.”

I thought that was a bit confusing. I asked him to be more specific. Loureiro obliged: “It doesn’t matter what your problem is. They will all be too serious and big. In the case of my niece, for instance, she stubbornly believes she will only be happy next to her ex-husband. She is totally dependent on him, emotionally. She does not realize that the burden this behavior creates on the marriage is such as to render it unsustainable. If you understand that no one can grant anyone the power over their happiness they will search for it where it lies: within themselves. Period. Only then can they share it with the other, with the essential lightness of love. Can you realize this is a choice?”

“With death this is no different. There are many who suffer for mistakenly believing that is the end of the story, while in fact it is a change of chapter. Others, despite understanding that death is not the end, insist on facing it as a loss, for being attached to the physical presence. This attitude is selfish, as it does not take into account the individual learning and the spiritual interests of the departed one. The typical stubbornness of being the center of other people’s universe instead of focusing on the beauty of one’s own lessons will trigger unavoidable suffering. Can you grasp that the way you choose to face a situation is what defines its pains or pleasures?”

I argued that oftentimes we suffer out of yearning. Loureiro cracked a large smile and said: “Yearning for someone is wonderful, as it records the love that existed in the relationship. Yearning is elicited only if there is love. The physical presence is not necessary for love to exist, as it is way beyond what can be touched. Be thankful for yearning, as it shows life was not in vain. That which does not make you yearn is lost in the void of existence. Therefore, whenever you are filled with yearning, you should smile and celebrate.” He furrowed his brow to conclude: “Of course, you can choose to feel you are a victim of the circumstances, abandoned by life and drown yourself in sadness. The decision is yours.”

I recalled that many people suffer because of unemployment and deprivation of material necessities. The good craftsman faced the issue: “Of course everyone should have the necessary for a dignified life. However, even though money can provide many good things if you have a healthy relationship with it, it is far from being the determinant for happiness. I have lost count of rich people with bouts of depression in their mansions while I have seen blue-collar workers filled with joy in the shanty towns they live. Of course, the opposite is also true. This proves once again that it all depends on the choice the person makes.” He paused briefly and added: “How many times have we seen disgrace that is, in fact, grace in disguise? We have always heard stories of people who improved after an adverse situation, as it stirred dormant gifts and skills. Do not doubt, this was only possible because they chose to face the problem with wisdom and courage rather than drowning in a sea of sorrows.”

He sipped more of his coffee and went further: “Diseases, even terminal ones, can be devastating or transformational, depending on how the patient faces the hardship. One time I went to visit a friend at the hospital he had been admitted to for cancer treatment. Even though he was a fine human being, he was prone to pessimism and foul mood. I was prepared for the worse, but I was in for a surprise. Despite being weakened due to chemotherapy, with dark circles around his eyes and hairless, I found him in the best moment of his life. He greeted me with a sincere smile, his eyes were filled with serenity, and his words sowed joy. He told me that the disease had made him find the medicine for his soul, and only because he had to experience that situation had he come to understand the beauty of the Path. He was very thankful for all he was experiencing, for the chance of having developed a new, transformational gaze.” He made a brief pause, and continued: “The most interesting is that he was sharing a room with a man, also a cancer patient, who was devastated; he felt he was the unhappiest man in the world and asked why that tragedy had befallen him, even though his medical condition was not as serious as my friend’s. Can you realize that each one makes their own choice? As the Master said, ‘when your eye is good, your whole body is filled with light.’”

“We normally waste so much time complaining about the shoe that was given to us and that we consider inappropriate for that type of road, that we do not take notice of walkers who, despite having a leg amputated, move on more lightly and resourcefully than we do. They do more despite their handicap. In fact, their power lies in their choices. In knowing that everything can be different and better, unveiling the mirror of a being who is in harmony with himself and, therefore, with the universe. This force is dormant within each one. When we select the gaze that sees the shortcomings of the world, we miss the opportunity of seeing its wonders. Whenever we allow suffering to emerge, this means we have denied joy a chance due to a mistaken choice. We regret the spilled milk instead of blessing the lesson of properly handling it.”

“Nothing hampers more the walker than regrets. When we complain, deep inside we try to justify to ourselves our unwillingness to make a different choice, capable of transforming reality. Expecting the world to adjust to our needs and wishes is more comfortable than striving for the most beautiful dreams, right? However, that is not what the great orchestra of life plays, and we end up encircled by bitterness for missing the ball. In a vicious circle, we keep complaining, and forget that it was all a consequence of the choices we made yesterday, repeated today and projected onto tomorrow.”

“The cycle becomes virtuous when we accept that the reaping is always in accordance with the sowing. The history of each person is but the summation of the choices they made during the journey. In this station and in previous ones. To define the next destinations means to make choices related to them. In order to change future routes we must alter the choices now. Going deep in the core of being is necessary for us to understand and accept what has brought us to this point, and then transform reality. To that end, we must be sincere and bold to ourselves. We must understand who we were and who we are, in order to redesign who we want to be. Truly.”

“Out of fear we choose the cage instead of the wings; out of selfishness we prefer to possess instead of sharing; out of ignorance, we place ‘having’ over ‘being’; out of jealousy we opt for being distant from love; for the shine of desire we decide to turn off the light of dreams; out of stubbornness we choose stagnation, preventing wisdom to germinate; out of convenience we gridlock life’s movement; out of pride we choose illusion in an attempt to forget the truth. Thus, unconsciously, we end up by choosing the disease for not allowing the healing.”

I said that each new idea is a bit confusing until it finds its proper place within ourselves. I acknowledged, however, that his arguments were sound. Loureiro said, seriously: “Every external conflict mirrors an internal mess. The way we react to hardships shows how strong or weak the shadows that still dwell within ourselves are. All our quarrels, from social problems to personal relationships, reflect how much the ego controls our soul. The suffering of a person is directly proportional to the shadows that dwell within him. To illuminate them is a choice.”

The cobbler looked at me for a moment, opened a beautiful smile and completed: “Choice is the only tool we have to practice our spirituality. There is no other. The shadows can make our existence a heavy burden. On the other hand, following the path of light with wisdom and love transforms life into a fine art. Only the choices will give you, or not, the lightness to be sustained in the air.”


Kindly translated by Carlos André Oighenstein.

1 comment

Joy September 18, 2017 at 9:16 pm

I have followed your posts for a while now. I am truly grateful for the wisdom you’ve dhared. I save each one as it comes so I can wait until I am in solitude to fully contemplate each discussion. Thank You so much for sharing


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