Can Meaning Arise Out of Suffering?

This metaphysical question is a derivative of the last blog–regarding purpose in life.  It is rather obvious to all that life offers more than enough opportunities for pain and suffering. Buddha recognized it as the foundation of existence in this world.  The alleviation or transformation of suffering became the goal of not only Buddhism but most spiritual tradtions.

In the Judeo-Christian lexicon, the name of Job represents the man who suffered yet did not lose faith. Unable to rationalize the horrendous onslaught of personal tragedy, Job ultimately found some solace in accepting the mystery of God’s actions.

I’m not convinced that many of us could be the modern day ‘Job’.  Yet we will all face suffering to more or less an extent. How we are able to deal with it will ultimately determine how much ‘suffering’ is derived from the inevitable pain of loss and disappointment.

This brings me to describe how one of my patients, a middle aged woman I’ll call Sara who, it seems, has begun to find meaning from the depths of her own suffering.  She lost her only child in a motor vehicle accident while in college. Her suffering has been inconsolable.  She has sought and received spiritual signs from him, yet this has brought only minimal and transitory relief for her.

Now, more than five years later I have noticed a change.  She has become the confidante and advisor of college age boys who are about the age of her deceased son.  It took her a while to even be able to speak to such young men.  The reminder that her son was gone was too powerfully evoked by such encounters.

Yet she now has found that she can offer them some personal wisdom that brings them back to hertime and again.   Others have told friends that she is an individual who will listen without judgment and offer practical, healing advice.  She told me that she believes her son is often speaking through her.

Whatever.  She now acknowledges that she could never have found herself engaged in such a rewarding and satisfying endeavor if she had not worked her way out of her abyss of suffering.

Of course none of us seek pain and suffering.  But that will not be the problem–it will find us.  Can we work our way through it? Perhaps one way is to use the suffering as a tool to help others. It offers us a way to attempt to make sense of the senseless.  It connects us to other people. It is the answer to finding contentment and joy in our lives. It is tikkun , the repair of the world, of our own fragmented souls.  And it is done by helping heal the world around us.

I humbly submit that it offers me more meaning than does the Book of Job.

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