You can hold yourself back from the suffering of the world; this is something you are free to do, and is in accord with your nature. But perhaps precisely this holding back is the only suffering you might be able to avoid.
Whenever I go to a bookstore I'm always struck by the size of the self-help section, since obviously, those books hold someone else's notion of what that hyphenation means. That's not to say I know so much about self-help, though. Truth be told, I don't take very good care of myself. When I write, I often forget to eat until starvation kicks in, or I stay awake until exhaustion puts me to sleep. It's very stupid of me, considering.
The other day I found this question posed on another networking site :
"If you had your life to live over again, what would you do differently ?"
This is always an interesting topic for speculation, but a better question, I believe, is found in Nietzsche's Thus Spoke Zarathustra:
If you knew you had to live this same life you're living now over and over again-have you experienced the moment that would make this a message to rejoice in ? Or how well disposed towards yourself and towards your life would you have to become to want it all exactly as it has been, times without number...
My parents married young. I was born not too long thereafter, and as a teenager I witnessed the emotional devastation that my father's mid-life crisis wrought on a family which had already seen its share of emotional devastation. At the age of 40, suddenly my father had a new vision of all the inherent wonder and attendant danger that living abundantly contains.
And the result was a fear that he might die before he ever lived that way.
I vowed not to make this mistake. I deliberately set out to transgress and transcend convention, I was determined not to settle for contentment.
I had a seizure when I was in my 20's. After a lot of testing the doctors found an arterial-venous malformation in my brain; similar to an aneurysm, the condition is congenital and characterized by a glut of arteries and veins which feed directly into one another with no capillaries in between. Arterial-venous malformations, or AVMs, are relatively rare, a sort of birthmark on the brain. Some people live their entire lives with an AVM and have no complications. Depending on the individual, the risk of living with an AVM is the possibility that too much emotional or psychological upheaval, or physical activity ranging from going into labor to strenuous but ordinary exercise, can cause the entanglement of blood vessels to burst, resulting in stroke, paralysis or death.
There was no other likely cause for the seizure, and since the AVM was close to the optic nerve, the doctors felt it was unsafe to operate. Treatment consisted of seizure medication and the advice to "try and live as stress-free a life as possible." I remember looking at the doctor as if he were mentally-challenged and asking what the hell that meant.
After that, I went on with my life as I had determined to do; I took risks and went against the grain. I did a lot of stupid things, a few wonderful things, and one or two things which in hindsight I know were cruel. But whether terrible or beautiful, in all things, I counted only mediocrity as a sin.
Later, there were more seizures, migraine-like headaches, bouts of nausea and more medications. After more tests were run, they found a second AVM and three aneurysms; I've been unable to work for over a year, and I miss it.
But now that I have the time to write, I write about my life. I write to share what I have learned from the experiences I share with many others. And I write because I feel that I've been lucky in my life, maybe even "blessed"; I can honestly say, I would gladly live this same life over again.
Unlike discovering you have a fatal illness, where you might decide to live more abundantly in the time that's left to you, my condition gives me a heightened appreciation of the wisdom in Nietzsche's words. From one moment to the next, the question we should ask ourselves is whether we want this all again, times without number.
Because for all we know, there's all the time in the world.