Suffering. What’s the Point?
I have been thinking lately about suffering and why we suffer. It’s not a new question. It’s one humans have wrestled with for eons.
I’ve had fibromyalgia and painful knee and back injuries for 35 years, stemming from an auto accident. I feel pain every day. But it is minor in comparison to the emotional and physical pain some of my friends endure, such as the loss of a loved one, cancer, or degenerative diseases. Then, there is the pain of professional failure, job loss, or public humiliation. Some experience poverty, debt and even homelessness. Some struggle with depression or other mental illness. Really, none of us can escape some form of loss, pain and suffering in our lives.
Why must we suffer?
I can’t say that I’ve come up with any definitive answer, but I have kind of changed the question to, “What is suffering doing for me?” Meaning, what can I learn from it?
Richard Rohr, in his book Falling Upwards, says that we must suffer and “fall” in order to have a chance at moving upwards spiritually. Death and resurrection are not new concepts. Nature itself reflects this reality.
Physical suffering has taught me compassion, patience, the importance of rest and care for my body, to meditate, to exercise, to stretch. It has taught me to slow down (a bit!). I have learned to sit with pain and listen to it and be present for it. I can decide not to let it rule my life. I can connect with other people to help me cope.
But, its negative energy also has the potential to teach me bitterness, complaint, resentment and anger. I can eat compulsively, drink and/or abuse pain medicine to try to relieve it. I can lash out at others. I can isolate.
I have choices in how to respond to suffering.
I have wondered if one reason our society is in an epidemic of drug, alcohol and food abuse is that we do not teach our children (and we have not been taught) how to deal with suffering. We shield them from losses and disappointments. We do not teach them about death or let them participate in processing the pain of loss. In some cases, we don’t even teach them that they cannot always have what they want, when they want it. Or we teach them they are the center of the universe and it revolves around their needs. We teach the illusion that life is fair and can be perfect and that we can be happy all the time.
No wonder people self-medicate to escape suffering! How would they know how to cope?
Over the past year, I have watched a friend go through an unbelievable amount of suffering with the most amazing attitude and self-care. She has gone to support groups, found spiritual help, used healing arts, and reached out to friends. She is suffering, but she is doing it in a way that allows her to journey through the dark night to a place of grace. What an inspiration!
I wish us all such a path of “good suffering.”
Just A Thought…
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