Yesterday I had a lunch meeting with an American man who has lived in Singapore for the past 17 years. Earlier this year, this man had decided to observe the month of Ramadhan at the encouragement of a doorman who he has breakfast with once a week. I was intrigued. In the last two years, I had just begun to observe Ramadhan again, but I had started observing it at 8 years old. This man was almost 60. Why did he do it? He wanted to know the purpose of going for a month where you are not able to eat from sunup to sundown. He wanted to know the purpose of suffering.
In my current head space, it made me think of suffering. Modern life is all about avoiding anything that is difficult. We have air-conditioning when it’s warm, heaters when it’s cold, special mattresses and pillows, for our bodies. When we are suffering emotionally we turn to alcohol, painkillers, sleeping pills, television, anything to avoid having to actually go through it. We have an abundance of food available. We even have chewing gum, which is just something to keep our jaws occupied without providing any nutritional value at all. Yet, the number of food intolerances is on the rise, along with the number of depression and suicide cases. Does having more make us less tolerant to discomfort and hardship?
Everyday, somewhere in the world, someone is suffering. Sometimes, like with people who chose to fast or abstain from things, they impose this suffering on themselves. Other times, circumstances put you through a hard time in life. Sometimes after not sleeping and crying for two weeks straight, you just have to ask “why?” What is the purpose of hunger? What is the purpose of suffering? As Mr. Forbes said to me, “that is the purpose. The purpose is to be hungry. The purpose is to suffer.” The purpose, according to this man, is to go through something hard, so that when things are even a bit good, you appreciate it so much more than anyone who hasn’t really suffered would.