Dealing with Suffering


Every path has its puddle; every life, its suffering

You may know or be a person in the midst of extreme hardship such as poverty, illness, pain, loneliness, unemployment, disability, homelessness, depression, or addiction. What shall we do when that is our lot? Well, we have three choices. First, we can struggle, resist, and do everything in our power to escape. Second, we can accept it. Third, we can embrace it.

The first choice makes sense if our struggle will improve the situation. Many people, for example, have lifted themselves from poverty after a long fight. As long as there is a dream, hope, and faith, anything is possible. Time after time, heroes have arisen who have fought against impossible odds. They changed what others believed was meant to be into what could be.

Some of these heroes were born deaf and dumb. Others blind. Still others, lame. Regardless of their fate, they proved we have within us the power to overcome any difficulty, the power to perform miracles, the power to be victorious and glorious. These heroic men and women were armed with courage, belief, and determination, tools available to all who call on their inner resources. But we have to want to change before we can.

A major cause of unhappiness is to resist suffering without trying to do something about it. That is, some who find themselves in unfortunate circumstances beat their breasts and cry out, "Why me? Why is life so unfair?" Such questions do little to improve the situation. At best, they offer the complainers the comforting thought that they are not responsible for their suffering because they are victims. They may be victims, but not of circumstance. Rather, they are victims of their own negative thoughts, self-limiting beliefs, and false ideas.

Instead of complaining, it is far better to ask empowering questions such as, "What can I do about the situation? What are my options? What small step can I take now that will improve my lot? How have others overcome similar problems? What do I need to do?"

Complaining about suffering without doing something about it doesn't help. It merely adds to the pain. We are not meant to be beaten down by life. We are not supposed to give up or surrender when the going gets tough. Rather, we are meant to get tough and get going.

At times, however, we encounter a painful situation that cannot be changed. Death of a loved one is an example. No matter how courageous we are, we cannot bring the dead back to life. But what we can do is to accept that death and suffering are both unavoidable and a part of life. To accept what cannot be changed is a mark of wisdom, to fight it is folly and a cause of unhappiness.

To see how one man accepted his impending death from pancreatic cancer and used it to inspire others, watch Carnegie Mellon Professor Randy Pausch as he delivered his last university lecture on September 18, 2007. You can watch the 1-hour 16-minute inspirational video here:

The third choice we have when we meet with suffering is to embrace it. This is a special path. It is the path of warriors, heroes, and champions. This special breed of men and women use their pain to understand how others feel and then dedicate themselves to lessening the suffering of others. Once aware of how others suffer, they have no time to think about their own pain.

But most of us are not heroes yet. So, what do we do in the meantime? The first thing is to realize that regardless of our situation, there are always others who are worse off or better off. The second thing we need to understand is we choose what we focus on. That is, we can focus on those who are better off or those who are worse off.

Choosing to focus on those who are better off is a formula for frustration, resentment, envy, and anger. In other words, all it does is increase our pain. Not very helpful, is it? On the other hand, when we focus on those who are less fortunate, we experience gratitude and compassion. If these pleasant feelings do not completely wash away our suffering, they at least diminish it. That being so, where should we focus our attention?

To help you answer that question, think about the following words of Psychotherapist Jennifer Welwood:

Willing to experience aloneness,
I discover connection everywhere;
Turning to face my fear,
I meet the warrior who lives within;
Opening to my loss,
I am given unimaginable gifts;
Surrendering into emptiness,
I find fullness without end.

Each condition I flee from pursues me.
Each condition I welcome transforms me
And becomes itself transformed
Into its radiant jewel-like essence.
I bow to the one who has made it so,
Who has crafted this Master Game;
To play it is pure delight,
To honor it is true devotion.

One dozen more points to consider on the subject of suffering:

1. Suffering is part and parcel of life. Accept it. Those who are so distraught that they commit suicide have forgotten that life is about change. Everything changes. Including our present painful circumstances. Many who came close to committing suicide, but balked at the last minute, were amazed how wonderful things turned out in the end. They now rejoice that they waited. Remember, nothing is permanent, including suffering.

2. Besides accepting the inevitability of suffering, prepare for it. Do whatever you can to lessen the impact of disaster when it strikes. Here is a story to illustrate this point. It was written by "Uncle Arthur" (Arthur Stanley Maxwell, 1896 ~ 1970).

"Years ago, a farmer owned land along the Atlantic seacoast. He constantly advertised for hired hands. Most people were reluctant to work on farms along the Atlantic. They dreaded the awful storms that raged across the Atlantic, wreaking havoc on the buildings and crops. As the farmer interviewed applicants for the job, he received a steady stream of refusals.

"Finally, a short, thin man, well past middle age, approached the farmer. 'Are you a good farm hand?' the farmer asked him. 'Well, I can sleep when the wind blows,' answered the little man.

"Although puzzled by this answer, the farmer, desperate for help, hired him. The little man worked well around the farm, busy from dawn to dusk, and the farmer felt satisfied with the man's work.
Then one night the wind howled loudly in from offshore. Jumping out of bed, the farmer grabbed a lantern and rushed next door to the hired hand's sleeping quarters. He shook the little man and yelled, 'Get up! A storm is coming! Tie things down before they blow away!' The little man rolled over in bed and said firmly, 'No sir. I told you, I can sleep when the wind blows.'

"Enraged by the response, the farmer was tempted to fire him on the spot. Instead, he hurried outside to prepare for the storm.
To his amazement, he discovered that all of the haystacks had been covered with tarpaulins. The cows were in the barn, the chickens were in the coops, and the doors were barred. The shutters were tightly secured. Everything was tied down.

"Nothing could blow away. The farmer then understood what his hired hand meant, so he returned to his bed to also sleep while the wind blew."


Prepare for disaster and you, too, will be able to sleep while the wind blows.

3. Increasing freedom and strength. For each difficulty you overcome, you push back the boundary of what you can bear. As your comfort zone expands, you grow in freedom and power. Like tea bags, we're not worth very much unless we've been in hot water.

4. When troubles come, face them. For as Dorothy Fields said, "No matter where I run, I meet myself there." That is, we cannot run away from our problems. Instead of spending valuable energy hiding from them, we need to use that energy for finding solutions. After all, the best way to escape from your problems is to solve or overcome them. And if you can't solve them at this time, learn how to cope with them or manage them.

5. Break big problems down into smaller ones. Don't let big problems overwhelm you. Break them down into small problems, and begin by tackling the smallest and easiest part. Baby steps are far better than no steps, and they will take you where you want to go. And keep in mind that every big problem was at one time a small one, so when new ones appear, nip them in the bud. Overcome them while they are still small and you will save yourself a lot of heartache.

6. Look forward to the satisfaction of conquering your difficulties. Problems present you with the opportunity to discover what it feels like to be victorious. Don't stand on the sidelines admiring the feats of others, but taste the exhilaration of victory yourself by courageously defeating your personal challenges.

7. Transmute negative energy into positive energy. Your difficulties are not meant to dampen your desire for success; but to rouse it, to elevate it, and to let it soar to yet unreached heights. Your problems are life's way of saying it has big plans in mind for you. Becoming the magnificent being that you were meant to be may be a bit scary, but the greater your fear, the greater the pride and joy you will experience at the moment of victory.

8. Learn from them. Here is a valuable tip from Rene Descartes (1596 ~ 1650), "Each problem that I solved became a rule which served afterwards to solve other problems."

9. You may need a break.
You probably have more than one problem. So, if you get stuck on one, take a temporary break, and start working on another one. While you're doing so, the solution to the first problem may appear.

10. Make the right choices. Choose happiness. Choose to have the right attitude. Choose to be victorious. Choose to draw upon your inherent power. Choose to become the miracle worker you were meant to be. Choose to live courageously. Choose to live the exciting life of a champion.

11. It may be a time for tears.
You may have lost a love one or encountered a catastrophe at this very moment. Perhaps the wind was just knocked out of you. Life may have dealt you a knock out blow today. If that is the case, you need time to heal. You will need time before you can summon your resources and regain your composure. Perhaps all you can do at this moment is cry. If so, take all the time you need. Allow yourself to purge the pain, but remain resolved that you will not allow it to defeat you.

12. Temper your trials with humor. Cultivate a sense of humor as it will lighten your burdens. To get you started, consider this advice from Sholom Aleichem (1859 ~ 1916): "No matter how bad things get you've got to go on living, even if it kills you!"

For more on the subject of problems, see: http://www.personal-development.com/chuck/problems.htm

I'll end with this thought, those who bask in success do so not because their lives were free of problems, but because they faced and overcame them. You can do the same.

© Chuck Gallozzi
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