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Sunday, June 7, 2009

We Should Suffer

In my profession I attempt to ease personal suffering. It is a daunting and often unsuccessful endeavor. I accept the burden of empathy and willingly dole it out on a daily basis. And so I often suffer with you as you tell me about your physical and mental pain. To help you and myself, we should take a look at the concept of suffering. There are many philosophical and religious approaches to the mystical experience of suffering. Some religions explain suffering as a test, a test of piety and if you maintain faith, you will eventually be rewarded. Scientists say that suffering is an evolutionary mechanism. We’ve all heard of “survival of the fittest” right? In other words, if you can avoid or overcome physical and mental suffering, you will survive. Then there’s the Buddhist philosophy that says suffering can be surpassed if we recognize the source (our attachments and desires) and then meditate to achieve a desire-less state. How hard is that?! In our society most of us are always trying to avoid suffering. Think about the debate over stem cell research and abortion. Both topics evoke extreme reaction; a reaction to the perception of human suffering is what it’s really about. Thomas Merton, a religious monk said this, “The more you try to avoid suffering, the more you suffer because smaller and more insignificant things begin to torture you in proportion to your fear of being hurt.” I can relate to that…it can be a vicious cycle that leads to paralysis! So what do we do with our suffering? I’m thinking we absolutely can’t live without embracing our suffering because it always seems “worth it” to have suffered. Think of all the beautiful music and artwork that has been the result of suffering. Suffering a broken heart, suffering the death of a child, suffering severe illness, suffering poverty, suffering from hunger…all this suffering has led to people helping each other, and to significant advances in making things better for future people. Martin Luther King Jr. said it best, “Human progress is neither automatic or inevitable…every step toward the goal of justice requires sacrifice, suffering, and struggle; the tireless exertions and passionate concern of dedicated individuals.” And that’s why I willingly journey with you through your suffering. Because together we can explore what goodness will come from it, and accept it, embrace it, and use it in a positive manner. If we can’t suffer, we will never experience the overwhelming tears of joy when there is triumph. I just can’t live without sappy love songs or movies about personal triumphs over extreme misery…can you?