I just had my flu shot. (I know, I know, some of you will disapprove, I do a bit myself). But it reminded me of Geshe Kelsang, my Teacher’s, explanation of transforming adversities into the spiritual path, where he uses the example of a needle.
So, in normal circumstances, I would not let a stranger anywhere near my arm with a needle, even a stranger with an official Walgreen’s badge. I would not let her inject me with some alien virus. I certainly would not say, once she had inflicted the pain: “Oh, thank you, you did great!”
But because I knew that the needle contained something I needed to ward off greater problems in the future (namely flu when I visit my long-neglected relatives in the UK over the holidays), I did let her jab my arm with a pointy thing.
Same with adversities. If we know something will do us good — make us stronger and/or immunize us from future suffering — we are far more likely to put up with it than if it is just some random useless suffering (whether inanimate or administered by others). According to Shantideva, in Guide to the Bodhisattva’s Way of Life:
Moreover, suffering has many good qualities.
Through experiencing it, we can dispel pride,
Develop compassion for those trapped in samsara,
Abandon non-virtue, and delight in virtue.
In other words, adversities can propel us along the spiritual path. In which case, if we are in fact interested in being propelled along a spiritual path, we need not shy away from adversities, however scary they may first appear.
(I am well aware that a flu shot barely qualifies as suffering, btw, but the needle thing made me think… )