For the first four decades of my life, I looked at the suffering that surrounds us every day with a sense of anger and despair.

I was raised in a religious tradition that emphasized a loving god who looked upon all human beings as his children. I was also raised by neglectful and selfish parents who didn't particularly make me think that a parent/child relationship was all unicorns and rainbows.

More than once I turned my middle finger to the sky telling the great 'lord' what I thought of him. Children massacred. Babies born with death sentences. Kind people exploited. Starvation, war, murder, rape, and worse - because there is always worse - as much as I wish there were not.

I quested after religion and ultimately turned my back on all of it. I studied and even converted to a diverse range of religions and ultimately - they were all saying the same thing. There is a force in the universe that is greater than we are - and from where I sat, that force was a sadistic old fuck.

Adopting the useful philosophical frameworks of a dozen religions, I labeled myself a philosophical buddhist, a religion free daoist, and a secular sufi. My beliefs were untethered and free. Not bound by the rules of some dogmatic control freaks. When I found myself in a relationship with a Muslim woman, it was no problem for me to convert to Islam so that I could marry her and satisfy the needs of her family. I studied Islam and I understood it well - but my understanding was quite different from that of most Muslims. My understanding of God had become something quite different. I was sure that we were as unnoticable and unnoticed by God as God was unfathomable and unavailable to us. In effect, it didn't matter. The shahaddha was open in its meaning (to me). "There is no God but God and Mohammad is his prophet" It was like a Yogi Berra koan - "It ain't over 'til it's over and Yogi is the one who said it". As for the Quran, I read it. I liked it. I particularly liked the first command 'Read!' and how it went to great pains to tell people that there were no intermediaries between God and man, not even the prophet. Everything is in the book - it's all you need, but you have to read it yourself. And of course, people were like 'TLDR' and then authorities stepped in and took control - because that's what people do.

The suffering though - it never made sense to me. My heart was filled with love when my daughter was born and it was shattered with suffering every day as I worried about her and saw the world she was going to live in emerging from the wreckage of the one I'd lived in. I became convinced that this plane of existence - it's actually hell. I could never quite figure out though - who sent us here? If God was oblivious to us like we are oblivious to amoebas - why go to the trouble? I've never been one to believe in demons - though, I think I'd like to. Demons, djinn, sprites, imps - as well as orcs, trolls, elves, and dragons. Fun stuff - but no. I didn't think we were being tortured because an all loving and all powerful god had accidentally created a bunch of powerful evil bastards.

The suffering - why the suffering. Why the need to send us here? Were we all just total douchebags stuck in endless cycles of karma?

And then - one day - someone said it. All this wisdom - it's around us getting spouted all the time and not getting noticed. You could probably find total enlightenment in a single day if you only could figure out how to listen. I was drinking a beer with a fellow dad (because I'm not a Muslim - I drink alchohol, I eat pork, I pray my own way, I have no intention of going to Mecca - although, perhaps if you go to the root meaning of Muslim 'one who submits to the will of God' then I might be a very good Muslim indeed - but more likely an apostate because would God actually want me to be sitting there in the sunshine drinking a beer with another guy who loved and worried about his daughters? Would God want me to have the sudden insight from my friend's offhand comment?)

Anyway - my friend was telling me about how his kid had fallen off the trampoline. He'd showed her how to be safe, told her not to jump the way she was jumping but she had bounced right off and landed on her butt. She had cried. Thankfully she was okay - he was able to laugh about it as he told me "They never learn anything when they are having fun, only when they suffer." We laughed and finished our beers before heading inside to have dinner with our families.

The words bounced in my head for days. I couldn't get rid of them. I tried to ignore them. And suddenly - they connected - they hit me hard and a thousand other things I'd heard all made sense too.

"We never learn when we are having fun. We only learn when we suffer."

This wasn't hell. It was school. Universe school. A place of suffering designed and built by us (because maybe we are God? I don't know. Maybe God works with us. Maybe God is a family friend). The suffering here allows us to grow and become better versions of ourselves. Suffering gives us the opportunity to become more than we thought we could be.

So much of the coded wisdom makes sense when you see this. Make lemonade from lemons. Get back on the bull. It ain't over 'til it's over. Life is like a box of chocolates.

Suffering let's us grow. Without suffering - we would never progress. Progress to what? How the hell am I supposed to know, I'm still here suffering with you - but not as much as I used to. As to how you master it - you have to be present with it. You have to let it wash all over you and then - you need to find your way over it. This is how you grow.