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The Art of Suffering

It’s cold, very cold; enough to seep into your bones and take several cups of hot chocolate and a warm fire to return to homeostasis. So why on earth are we outside, with ski(s), essentially wooden sticks, strapped to our vulnerable meat-bag like bodies? The location is the very elementally exposed ridge of Hog’s Back in the Chic Chocs. These east coast beasts, pronounced ‘Shick Shocks’ in a luscious French accent, are a Mountain Range in the Heart of the Gaspe Peninsula, a few hundred miles northeast of Quebec. There’s 70 mile per hour wind howling at us, frost bite ready to chomp at our faces, and strangely, this is exactly why I’m screaming “AHHH I F&$KING LOVE THIS!” at the top of my lungs.

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What is it about these certain extremes that attracts me? Why do I subject myself to physical struggles and sufferings? Well, I simultaneously ask anyone who has earned fresh turns by hiking to the top of a peak in the early hours of twilight, were these not some of the best lines of your life? Was not each turn a moment of ascent realized and liberated as the sun was rising? Was it not redemption? Anyhow, without seeming too grandiose, the simple answer then, must be that only through pain one is able to find genuine joy. 

Seth Laugbauer Photography photo.

I’m sure this applies differently for us all, however, suffering still remains a part of everyone’s life, and thus our mind is always able to cope - one simply has to persevere. Whether it be below zero winter camping, a 90-mile mountain biking ride, a 24-hour backpacking/mountaineering trek from hell, or more generally, mourning over the loss of a loved one or an end to a long term relationship, all of us are capable of finding that early morning serenity of fresh turns and fresher powder. Never is this a black and white transition. People, place, and time are the aids for recovery and, for me, the addition of solitude and silence.

As for the mission on Hog’s Back; situations like those make my mind act like a calm lake even with Ullr hyperventilating on us. On the surface it’s wild and loud - screaming and squealing with joy like a pig free of its pen - but what’s happening beneath is of ultimate importance. At the core of it all, this joy is a release. It’s not a physical torture in order to fill a sensory void, it’s a meditation. And yes, it’s also a therapy Oh, “therapy”, pump the brakes! A word that coincides with AA groups or manic depression! A preconceived label that society has branded for people that need help. 

Cyril Brunner / Alpenlure Photo.

Let’s face it, we all need help at some point in our lives. In fact, it’s a good thing to seek help every now and then. Vulnerability is a prerequisite for love. I’ll repeat that, without vulnerability, love cannot exist because you cannot get close enough to someone if you don’t open and show yourself. Similarly without pain, you can never really know the true extent of your joy. Perhaps you’ve cried from happiness?

It’s ok, it’s not the end of the world. Yes, joy and pain go hand in hand. And yes, when there’s black there’s white, but also grey, and very likely beautiful colors as well. This is where most of our thoughts float around. Never too far left or too far right, but in and out of the middle of the spectrum of emotion. The key is to find moderation within this spectrum. A little bit of everything to find balance. Sounds easy right? HA! Well I doubt anyone has been able to find it, even monks that dedicate their lives to end the cycle of samsara (suffering). But again, perseverance. And again. Perseverance.

As a side, I do find interesting the concept of searching to end suffering for myself once and for all, and becoming a monk or yogi. However, I believe when applied to reality that it’s a bit out of reach and also a tad self-centered - to renounce everything in order to find oneself. It could work for some as a way to set an example or remind others of this previously mentioned idea of infinite perseverance, but for the layperson it’s beyond impractical with all the variables in life’s equation. Actually, every human being should strive to be a monk or yogi not in the traditional sense but perhaps a way where you continue to be a part of life’s regular flow. For example a truck driver yogi, a professional skier monk, a businessman shaman. What I’m trying to say is that we should still strive to be enlightened creatures while also contributing to our world, and our families. Plus ending suffering may not necessarily be a good thing. To suffer is to be human. As I’ve said without any pain how can we hope to feel the true joy of life?

Also lets be real. Suffering is impossible to truly end with certainty. New things are always on the horizons and with these things are brought both new joys and new pains. Often times it feels like life is a rollercoaster that you’re riding backwards and blind - though hopefully without the resulting nausea. What’s going to happen next? Truly no one can answer that, expect maybe someone who writes fortunes for Chinese fortune cookies for a living - if you ever happen to meet one that is - and who knows maybe they come straight from the heavens anyhow…

By: Vasu Sojitra

Edited by: Amir Sojitra

About The Author

stash member Vasu Sojitra

Ninja sticking through the woods since 1991

Really NICE!

I think a lot of what you said was spot on. I think I share some of the same values. When I read your article and then look to my own experiences I am constantly reminded of challenges. When I think back on my “accomplishments” I often highlight the journey and not the peak of the mountain. Do you see this reference to suffering in anyway as interchangeable or inclusive of other driving feelings? Pain is to Joy what challenge is to the feeling of accomplishment? Or is that an entirely different conversation? - Just something I have struggled with finding myself.

Also, I’m glad you touched on the topic of moderation which is something I look to find in my daily life and subscribe to. Spending an entire day climbing a mountain just to turn back and ride down could be viewed in the eyes of many as very extreme. Is the moderation in this found with the balance between pain and suffering? or is the moderation found in going home after all of the extreme and doing the often boring and mundane tasks that life often requires of us?

I am interested in your take on things. If a reply to this thread is not convenient, I would still enjoy your thoughts through email.



    Hi Devin,

    Thanks for engaging in this. I’m glad it’s provoked you to look deeper.

    To answer you question, what I’ve realized is that comparing black to white is one major way to determine the quality of an experience; Joy to suffering, an accomplishment to a disappointment. It’s not to say some experience are incomparable. An experience with a priceless or in-explainable feel that doesn’t have it’s yang. To me, those experiences are rare.

    As for moderation, this really depended on perspective. Some people might say skiing 100+ days is “extreme” , but to me I know I could’ve done more if I really put my mind to it. If I did push myself even more I might have missed out on a lot of other duties (my dharma) that I have given myself to live a sustainable and mindful life. Moderation to me is a balancing act between all the ups and downs, but also all my passions and duties. It’s to help me find a mental state where I feel accomplished in my actions to society and to my own well being. And of course with that there will be pains and downfalls, but the way I look at that is if I am pushing myself to be moderate and mindful then I’ll have unconditionally created perseverance within myself to overcome those obstacles.

    Hope that answers your questions.

    Take care,