Four “noble truths” underpin Buddhist philosophy. The first has always struck me with the most force. It has a cutting quality. Strikes the bell of truth cleanly.
“Life is suffering.”
The idea is straightforward. Everything that lives, suffers—it’s simply the natural state of existence for all living things. As natural as breathing. It’s part of the deal and should be expected. (Though the remaining three noble truths are all about eliminating suffering, oddly enough.)
There’s real wisdom in this. To remind ourselves as often as possible that whatever suffering we’ve been doing lately, it’s essentially the same basic component of life, in various forms. The one that has always been there.
Remind yourself enough times, in enough different situations, and you’ll start to recognise the pattern. The same baseline experience. An unpleasant and primal motivator that sticks to all life forms.
Wisdom taken the wrong way can lead you into danger, though, and the first noble truth of buddhism is easy to misunderstand. For example, suffering might be unavoidable, but that doesn’t mean we should accept suffering being inflicted on ourselves or others.
Better would be to accept that suffering will find you, whatever: so you might as well make a stand and suffer fighting for things you stand for (and against). Choose your suffering and you can take control over what you get back from it.