A friend of mine recently shared his thoughts about making sense of suffering. “I want to believe there’s a reason for suffering,” he said. “But what if there’s not? What if people suffer for no reason?”
This friend is a Christian. Christians believe God rewards his children with eternal life. We are taught to bear our trials the way Jesus did, trusting that God will redeem our suffering. It seemed my friend had been taught suffering is noble, and if we do enough of it, we’ll be rewarded.
Making Sense of Suffering
I’m not sure I’m on board with this view of suffering as virtue. Suffering is inevitable, though. Everyone suffers. I can’t look at my own trials and ask, “Why do I have this set of sufferings while someone else has another? Why does that guy seem to have more gifts and blessings than I do? There is no reason I should have to go through life struggling with x or y or z.”
In yoga and other spiritual practices, we learn it’s not suffering but how we react to suffering that makes the difference. Making sense of suffering is not the goal. Accepting it and transforming it is.
If I want redemption from suffering, I have to react to it in redemptive ways so I can transform it. First, I need to accept that (a) suffering exists, and (b) I don’t always get to choose how or how much I suffer (although I certainly can invite unnecessary suffering into my life).
Getting back to my friend’s question, I don’t know the purpose or value of another person’s suffering. I can only experience how I react to things that trouble me. I can’t change the meaning of suffering, give it meaning, or take meaning away from it by thinking about it. The best I can do is accept it and do my best to let it transform me in some positive way.
How Mindfulness is Redemptive
One of the best ways I’ve learned to redeem suffering is with mindfulness. Who, after all, is suffering? Maybe suffering is not part of my true nature. As I’ve learned this practice, a remarkable thing has happened. I’ve become less attached to myself and more aware of my Self (with a capital S).
This is not a new age mind game. There is profound value and truth in it. I’ve agree with spiritual teachers who say we are not our thoughts, our pain, our suffering, or any number of other things, including our thrills, pleasure, accomplishments. and blessings.
We can’t come to awareness of who we are (and aren’t) by reading about it once or twice or ten or even a thousand times. We must cultivate awareness and practice it. That’s not easy. But it’s the only way to transcend suffering or at least to transform it and make it bearable.
Learning to Transform Suffering
I’ve learned a lot as I’ve moved through this journey, though I’m sure there’s a swifter path than the one I’ve taken! I’ve come to believe:
- My life is not about me.
- Attachment to what I think I need, want, or deserve causes pain.
- I am not my thoughts.
- I am not my emotions.
- The habits I’ve developed through my unique perspective often cloud my experience.
- No one really knows the truth about most things.
- It’s okay to not know the truth about most things.
- Even though I can’t be sure of what’s true and what’s not, I must still make choices.
- I have made and will continue to make lots of mistakes.
- Believing I should not make mistakes or that perfection is possible causes a lot of pain.
As a yogi, I try not to dwell on suffering. I continue to practice, and with practice, the inevitable pain of life is transformed.
I’m Maria, devoted yogini and author of Yoga Circles. I’m a writer, editor, and content marketing creator. I help small businesses, wellness brands, teachers, and authors publish books, develop marketing strategies, and communicate effectively in writing. Visit my website (link below) to learn how I can help you connect with more readers, clients, and students!