It hurts. It may be physical, mental, emotional or all three. It’s so bad, you feel you can’t endure another day. You pray, “Please let it stop.” But it doesn’t stop. Medication helps, but it goes on. And you feel nothing but pain. How can there be any value in such suffering? How can there be any meaning in such suffering?
According to Viktor Frankl in his book, Man’s Search For Meaning, striving to find a meaning in one’s life is the primary motivational force in man, and there can be meaning in suffering. Meaning is not abstract in general terms, but a specific meaning of a person’s life at a given moment. Each person is unique, with a unique perception of self and for being here. And each has unique talents, missions, etc with individual responsibility for fulfillment.
According to Frankl we find meaning in 3 ways:
1) by doing a deed, achievement, or accomplishment; 2) by experiencing a value such as work, or expressing love; and 3) by suffering.
“In some way, suffering ceases to be suffering at the moment it finds meaning.” -Viktor Frankl
As impossible as it may seem, suffering can lead to positive self change if one is willing to look past the pain. I remember one of my patients who lived with chronic pain. His life was falling apart, and he saw no meaning in anything. Then he discovered, through therapy, that while he couldn’t stoop or bend, he could lay on the ground, dig with one hand, and grow a flower garden. I saw joy in his face when he brought me a beautiful lily plant he had grown. He still lived with pain, but he realized his pain had shown him hidden talents and abilities. And his suffering became meaningful.
“You must let suffering speak if you want to hear the truth.” -Cornel West
Recently I was in the hospital and came home on 24/7 oxygen for the next 6 weeks, then reassess to see if I’ll continue needing it. At first the thingy in my nose and dragging a long line around the house behind me was frustrating when the line caught on furniture and stopped me cold. Well, as it forced me to slow down, I discovered negative thoughts, feelings, and actions I hadn’t been aware of in the past. Wow. No wonder I suffer from chronic stress. I didn’t know. But now I do. And I’m changing the direction of my life. Now, moving slowly, I can alter my values. And I can catch the negativity and release it while embracing more joy and peace. I still experience my illness, but it has become my healer. And that gives it meaning.
“Those who have a “why” to live, can bear with almost any “how.” -Friedrich Nietsche
Survival in the face of suffering is strengthened by unfinished business in one’s life. Without tasks to be done, goals to meet, another chapter to write, life may have little meaning. But with a sense of meaning in your life, courage you didn’t know you had will surface and see you through some very painful circumstances. Do you remember a time you didn’t think you could go on, but a project, an important intention, or someone needing you drove you forward? And did you find courage in spite of your suffering? You find courage when something or someone depends on you. And there’s something only you can do.
When you go through a painful time, release the creative force within you and find something meaningful in your life. And change your perception of your suffering and your Self. Everyday acknowledge your Self as the beautiful creation you are. You are not your pain. You’re here to express the essence of your Self, and your light can reduce any darkness you face. And you can find peace.
I wish you a life of meaning.
Marilyn Fowler, Author