Sunday, February 12, 2012

Finding Meaning in Our Suffering...

This week, I intended to complete my writing about our connectedness to each other and then got derailed by something else I was reading… I don’t know if this is a common occurrence for writers, but it appears to be part of my journey, so I just have to go with the flow, lol, and just write.

Lately, I have been reading a book called “Calling In the One,” by Katherine Woodward Thomas. It’s the latest book that’s been added to my collection of self-help books, popular psychology and dating anthologies (material for yet another blog no doubt). But this week, I was reading a chapter on our inner wounds when I came across this passage: 

“In some way, suffering ceases to be suffering at the moment it finds a meaning.”

These words struck me like a chord to a piano… its voice in a volume unheard of. The context of that passage is that it is followed by a story about a man who was grieving the death of his wife. The gentleman seemed to be sinking deep into depression, unable to work through his grief even after two years past her death.

Then, one day, the therapist asked the gentleman what did he think would have happened if he had died first? The gentleman replied that he believed that his wife would’ve suffered terribly. “Oh, then you have spared her then this suffering, and the price that you have paid to do this is of surviving and mourning her.” At that moment, the gentleman realized the meaning of it all. He was able to see the purpose or reason as to why his wife needed to precede him in death, and it was then that the gentleman was able to begin the healing process… in fact, he never felt the need to return to his therapist again.

This made so much sense to me… there are so many people who are suffering deep emotional pain in this world and can not seem to find their way out. The grief, oftentimes feels unbearable, insurmountable, and depressing; and for some, the cloud never seems to lift. It made me think about my own experiences with loss… the processes I have sought in order to find “answers;” my pursuit of unhealthy ways with which to manage and cope with my pain… to escape it, and to avoid it.

Pain, as I am using it here, is different from the bumps and lumps that I described in my previous blog. “Bumps and lumps” are the obstacles or barriers that come to us – they are the experiences or the events themselves…. and sometimes they can be quite painful or they can be irritating, frustrating, or sad. Pain, on the other hand, is that which makes us suffer. It’s the residual from our experiences… it’s what left of ourselves after surviving the storminess of bumps and lumps. Suffering happens in the deepest part of ourselves… sometimes we are aware of it and sometimes we are not, but always, it lies deep within us – guarded by our psyche so that we may simply move on.

 But like the gentleman in the story, the pain can, and often does, linger – sometimes well beyond what we think it has. For some of us, we may still be hurting from the loss of a loved one or a break up or a betrayal … there are a myriad of experiences that contribute to our sense of loss. But what makes us suffer lies in how we make sense of the pain that we are experiencing? Do we choose to play the role of victim, thereby making ourselves unable to do anything else but to blame others for our sorrows? Do we choose to despair or lose hope, resigning ourselves to a life of tragedy? Or do we choose to use our suffering as a tool with which to open up ourselves?

A tool that enables us to look deep within and ultimately, keeps the heart, mind, and spirit open.

Sometimes it’s easier just to abide by the suffering and do nothing about it, to make no effort to give it meaning or understanding… just simply deny its existence. Denial, from my understanding of its use in psychology, is a self-preservation tool of the psyche. It allows us to bury the pain, and to create a facade about its ill effect. It allows us to mentally and emotionally survive, but it does not help us find release. And like all things buried, in time, they eventually find their way to the surface…

Sometimes, when we comprehend the nature of our suffering, we can take comfort in understanding it. Take for example an old family friend of mine – we’ll call him Daniel. Daniel is in his sixties, and survived a serious stroke several years ago. Miraculously, he has regained complete use of his physical abilities, but he will have to deal with long-term brain injury as a result of his stroke. He understandably laments the loss of his faculties – as he tells me, “It’s quite frustrating to know what it is that you’re seeing but then not be able to retrieve the words right away.” But Daniel is a survivor and he recounts how blessed he is to have recovered as well as he has. Even more telling is how he has made sense of his suffering: he sees himself as blessed… and he knows that his progress serves as an inspiration to other stoke survivors, which is why, he says, he never stops attending his therapy.

Pain and suffering have its purpose… and everyday we have a chance to give it meaning so that we might find release from them. In some instances, like the loss of an ability – it may mean we have to adapt to our world differently than what we have been accustomed to; and in other instances, like the loss of love, it may mean we have to regain love for ourselves in order to heal and love again.

In any event, it causes us to rethink or do things differently… and perhaps finding the meaning of our suffering is the answer that we seek.

(Story about the therapist borrowed from Katherine Woodward Thomas’s “Calling In the One.”)