The Power of Suffering

“Character cannot be developed in ease and quiet. Only through experience of trial and suffering can the soul be strengthened, ambition inspired, and success achieved.”

Helen Keller

Suffering is inevitable. It’s an inescapable part of life and at one point or another, we shall all suffer emotional trauma or physical pain. Suffering is as real and natural and inseparable from life as breathing air or drinking water. This is hardly a revelation.

However, this article was not meant to depress, for even though suffering itself can be very hard to cope with at times, after coming out the other side of the tunnel of suffering, one may notice that suffering is often a catalyst for both positive growth and change.

Of course, there are many ways to suffer. Some of us will bring suffering upon ourselves intentionally to bring about that growth on demand. Extreme athletes will subject themselves to endless amounts of suffering in their training to fuel growth for their entire bodies. Some men and women search for the suffering of solitude in some desolate location to encourage an ego death and mental re-awakening. Many young people all over the world will give up their comforts and possessions at one point throughout their lives to live out of just a backpack and sleep in hostels or cars or under the stars, just to break away from the mundane and to open themselves to new experiences. These people already know, to some degree, the power that suffering can bring to an otherwise comfortable and “happy” life.

Suffering is not always controlled and intentional however and the majority of our sufferings that we will incur in this life will be unexpected. The death of a loved one. The sudden onset of disability or poor health. A personal financial crisis. The suffering caused by a poorly run government. The suffering caused by climate and weather. The suffering caused by interpersonal conflicts. These are unavoidable and they may take a person by surprise, none of us should be surprised that these sufferings are bound to occur in life.

First of all, every person will be affected by suffering differently. Every person will have a unique reaction to a particular form of suffering. One person may spiral into an unceasing pit of depression after the death of a loved one, while another may feel the hurt, and let it go. Another may even feel some relief for the passing of a loved one, due to animosity or empathy for the beloved’s own suffering before death, stirring up feelings that are both bitter and yet sweet.

No healthy person wishes these sort of sufferings upon themselves or their loved ones. Yet accompanying these great trials in suffering, can be growth and opportunity.  Even with the death of a loved one, one may come to find a strength within themselves that they were never aware that they possessed. Perhaps they’ve relied on that family member or partner to provide them with their wisdom and support. Now, through this suffering, that person may have to look inwards, to find the answers for themselves and to be more supportive themselves with a more direct approach to self-love and self-talk.

Some sufferings will break us down. Some sufferings may almost kill us, but as the old saying goes, “what doesn’t kill us makes us stronger”. When we are broken down, we can be built up again in a better form if we so choose that direction, if we can resist the urge to throw in the towel and give up on life. There is always an opportunity for further growth.

So maybe the next time that we suffer, we can feel the hurt of the moment and have our moment of sadness, but look to the future and reflect upon the ways that this suffering may change us for the better one day…

How can this pain be used to push me farther forward in my life?

How can I keep this experience from holding me back and always feeling like a negative?

Change is always the answer and change is always inevitable. Whether we resist it or embrace it makes all the difference in the world. Whether we work with our change or let our change rock us without compliance, it’s up to us. It’s always up to us how we react to these changes.

With a humble mind, and an outlook on life that is both full of love and positivity but realistic and aware, no matter what the situation, we can cultivate feelings of hope and determination.

Some days we may fall and lose our will to keep this perspective, but we can always struggle to draw ourselves back there. The one person that we must never give up on in this life is ourselves because there is no other person in existence who is more capable of picking us back up. There are only other’s whose words may act as catalysts of change within us, yet it is always for us to make this change. We must trust ourselves to be courageous. We must trust ourselves to bring about the changes we seek. We must trust ourselves to choose a life worth living.

In these ways, our sufferings can bring about great change and positivity to us over time after the dust from the trauma has settled. In the greatest moments of distress, I like to imagine the closing of one chapter in my life and the new beginning of another for what is yet to come. My moment of suffering is like a cliffhanger setting the stage for an inevitable struggle and growth. No person wants to read a book consisting of one chapter and one setting. No person wants to read a book devoid of conflict or struggle. These are the dark truths of life which one must learn to embrace and love as part of all life, for they make the moments of bliss seem that much brighter and joyful.