Saturday Blueprint on Suffering

Saturday Blueprint on Suffering

Hi 👋. Here is this week's Saturday Blueprint.

🤔 Quote I’m thinking about

On suffering:

Pathei mathos (An Ancient Greek saying meaning 'through suffering comes understanding')
Dean Karnazes had once said, that people mistake comfort for happiness. ‘Happiness needs to be earned’. If happiness wasn’t in comfort, was it somehow to be found in being uncomfortable? Was there some need for those of us with no suffering in our lives, to find some? Because it made us appreciate our homes and our comforts more? Or did suffering a little somehow make us stronger, more fulfilled human beings? – Adharanand Finn in The Rise of the Ultra Runners

🥲 Life, Suffering and Meaning

What does the Ancient Greek saying of Pathei mathos (through suffering comes understanding) and the survival TV show 'Alone' have in common?

That from suffering comes understanding and meaning.

Look, and everywhere there is suffering. We pile internal anxieties, expectations and issues on ourselves. We look around and see external suffering everywhere, from the mundane (a friend losing a pet) to the profound (the ravaged lives of those affected by war). In fact, it is impossible to separate suffering from life. In a way, suffering is life. It's a poor strategy to hope for a life with no suffering. So why not lean into it, and find the meaning from all of life, not just the good bits.

I've also been watching the survival TV show 'Alone' recently. It's fantastic; a no-frills self-filmed exploration of the human psyche. The contestants (for it is a competition, with the winner netting $500,000) have a handful of survival tools - an axe, a bow, that sort of thing - and no food - and have to survive as long as possible by hunting, fishing, gathering their food. You'd think the strongest, or the most competent would win, but no, it's the unravelling of the mind that is fascinating to watch and often dictates who survives the longest. They go on a deeply introspective journey, deeply hungry, fighting their own inner demons, and ultimately peel away all the layers until all that is left is bare character.

Those with the right mindset use the suffering, and it really is suffering (hunger, cold, loneliness), to find meaning. They go on this spiritual journey to discover what they knew all along - that family matter more than anything, that they are deeply grateful for everything they have. It is directly because of their experience of suffering that they have found this meaning.

Of course, a TV competition is artificial suffering, in that at any time they can tap out and go home. But at the same time it is a vehicle for self-discovering, and, having watched several seasons of this show now, dare I say self-transcendence.

The Ancient Greeks may have summarised this is a neat saying, and they surely would have a better appreciation of suffering than we do now. But whether the cause of the suffering is age-old (like death, heartbreak, loss) or artificial, it still is a direct route to what we're made of. To what is left when suffering has stripped all else.

The meaning might not be immediately apparent. But the challenge is to unearth that meaning, whatever the situation. In this way, you can move towards accepting suffering with the gift of meaning. It will not take away the pain, but it will give meaning to the pain that will be of some comfort.

☃️ Winter Reflection

For me, Winter is a time for reflection. Slower. Reflective. Movies with the kids. Rainy days in front of the fire. Board games (ok, that's wishful thinking with a 4-year-old in the house!).

I've reflected about my goals and aspirations, my purpose. Ultimately I've found a level of acceptance, but also a level of discipline in pushing my boundaries. I've committed to running the Bristol Half Marathon in May 2023 as a focal point for training. I'll be tackling this in my usual attention-to-detail engineering style. I've capture my guide in a recent article, the Complete Guide to Running Periodization.

🍽️ Fasting

I've recently completed a longish fast - 45 hours with no food, or calories (only black coffee and water).

A long fast is always an enlightening experience. Hunger comes in waves, sometimes strong, sometimes completely absent.

Ultimately, whilst I recognise the health benefits of fasting (autophagy, longevity, etc.) it is the 'mind over matter' test that I like the most. If you want a challenge, but don’t want to run a marathon or some other physical challenge then try a 36 or 48-hour fast - it’s as much of a challenge as that marathon, but without all that training!

I use fasting as a resilience tool, as a health ‘hack’, and as a voyage of discovery.
It’s also an experiment in gratitude. Food literally tastes better. Look, I’m fortunate to have food in such abundance at all times. Faux scarcity helps me appreciate that more.

Some tips from my recent long fast would be to drink plenty of water including electrolytes (sodium, potassium and magnesium). Also, expect to be cold at night as your body generates less heat.

I broke my fast, somewhat reluctantly oddly, with some bone broth and a bit of chicken.

💍 Cool finds

A quick list of things I've read or found this week that I want to share.

It’s a pleasure writing to you. Have a great week. 😊

About the Saturday Blueprint

The Saturday Blueprint is a weekly newsletter every Saturday on health, vitality and philosophy by Nick Stevens.

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