The Meaning of Suffering

personal reflections Dec 20, 2023

Everyone suffers. I don’t know very much, but I do know this. Everyone experiences loss, grief, anger, anxiety, betrayal, worry, abuse, and hurt. Sometimes it’s our own suffering and sometimes it’s the pain that comes from witnessing the suffering of others.

This is why I reach for the knowledge and perspective of those who came before us, because sometimes when we’re in the thick of our suffering we need help finding our way through the pain to the other side.

One teacher I turn to is the psychiatrist Viktor Frankl. He survived four different concentration camps during the holocaust, including Auschwitz. He lost everything, including his wife.

He emerged from these unimaginable conditions and circumstances with wisdom that has the power to change the way we relate to pain and suffering. There have been many times when his words gave me hope when I felt hopeless.

For me, I believe that nothing in life has meaning aside from the meaning we assign it - in other words how do we perceive our suffering? Does it debilitate us? Demolish our spirit? Fill us with cynicism, pessimism, anger, and hopelessness?

Or maybe our suffering has meaning. Maybe the lessons woven throughout our experiences clarify what truly matters to us, the depth of love we feel for those in our lives, our sense of purpose and personal responsibility, the way we want to make others feel, just how resilient and capable we are.

Subscribing to our outrage, fear, guilt, and anxieties is far easier than searching for meaning, but it is far more empowering to take ownership of our suffering than it is to be a victim to it. 

If a man like Viktor Frankl can remain hopeful, compassionate, and positive amidst the horrors of the Holocaust it means that it's possible for us to find the same resolve within our own circumstances and the state of the world. 

So this week, I recommend taking some time to reflect on how you can take control of your mind, your life, and your perception of the world by searching for meaning and understanding in your suffering and the suffering of others. 




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