Suffering can be a gift
Suffering can produce endurance and personal awareness, endurance produces character and resilience, and character produces hope and transformation, and the evidence that ‘no matter what happens I can go on!’
A gift no one wants to receive
No one wants to go through suffering, but guess what, suffering happens to us all at some point. In many cases the most productive and resilient people in society push themselves through periods of induced suffering to get to the next level in their performance potential. People who choose to learn how to endure periods of suffering and discomfort also learn how to surpass it and transcend it. This leads to all kinds of incredible personal achievements and competencies.
Look at world champions in sport, leading experts in science or medicine, spiritual leaders, or special ops military. All of these top performers know it is their ability and willingness to push through the pain, and to keep going despite the discomfort, which leads them to find the best performance ability. These are people who are consciously and consistently augmenting scenarios of suffering and difficulty in order to improve and transform themselves and the results they achieve. We look to examples of such leaders and pioneers to motivate us and inspire us, but very few of us actually want to sacrifice or feel enduring discomfort or suffering to get there. We want easy options. We want short cuts. This is where we lose the recipe for success. We want to experience the insights without the pain and the loss.
Some suffering is not chosen
Then there is suffering that is not chosen or intentional. This is suffering that is imposed on others, or it is suffering that is produced as a result of tragic loss, illness, systemic oppression, natural disasters, or circumstances outside of our direct control. You lose a job or the economy crashes, or a dictator makes people suffer. There are many examples of people who have achieved the same kinds of elevation in performance, spirit, and potential to recover, by enduring and transcending this suffering by learning how to grow through it.
People like Nelson Mandela, Oprah Winfrey, Victor Frankl, Buddha, Ghandi, Albertina Sisulu, and countless other globally recognised figures have risen above their suffering to become far greater life forces in the world. They have all used their suffering to become more than, and they all attribute part of their personal success to being able to deal with and transcend suffering. This suffering has distilled and defined their character, and their innate power, to function at the highest levels. I am not sure that all people can do this, and I also think that people who can do this also have the benefit of the right support structures and teachers along the way to find their way through.
Suffering plays a crucial role in personal growth
The idea that suffering plays a critical growth role in achieving personal greatness or achievement is confusing to grasp, but it is something that is consistently clear in many peoples experience of what suffering has brought them. This is not true of all sufferers though. Many suffer and don’t transcend or grow. Often these people are destined to fail due to unavoidable circumstances. Instead they crash and burn into even worse states of suffering. Many do not see suffering as an opportunity to grow and become better because they simply don’t have the tools, support structures, or role models to do so. These people cannot help but see suffering as an inescapable hell and an all consuming vacuum that they cannot learn from or emerge from new and improved.
There is no doubt that suffering claims many victims, and many are unfortunately not gifted with the mindset or opportunity to see suffering as a sharpening of the claws, a re-enforcing of the mind, and a polishing of the spirit. Many simply don’t see it this way at all. Instead these people give up and give in to their situation and become lost to the idea that suffering is a gift that can bring out the best you have to offer. This is unfortunate but it is also reality. I do not blame those who fall under the weight of their suffering. If anything I understand how it can happen.
Personal experience of suffering has enabled me
I have known personal suffering of a kind I would never have wished for, but which has been the making of the resilient and empowered person I am today. My suffering has undoubtedly produced the best version of me, but it is mostly because I have had good teachers and role models along the way who have helped me to see suffering in a certain way, and who have helped me to find and develop the mindset, tools, and discipline required to find enlightenment from suffering, no matter how hard it gets. This is a rare gift to receive, and one which certainly escapes the majority of sufferers.
How we deal with suffering is a choice
Suffering is certainly not always a choice but how we deal with suffering is a choice we make, a mindset that one cultivates over time. It is easier for some than others but it is still available to us all, regardless of circumstances, except to say that to make this choice you do need to be exposed to people and mindsets that help you to make the right choice.
I know many people from all kinds of circumstances who have chosen to learn and grow from suffering. These people have come from the streets, from previously disadvantaged backgrounds in the worst situations, people who have dealt with terrible illnesses, people who have suffered immense tragic loss. All of these examples could easily give up and resign themselves to the tragedy of suffering but they have not. Why?
A few of the reasons I see common to these examples are:
- Parents who refused to see suffering as the end or as a reason to give up, and they modelled this for their children, and in their communities.
- Teachers or role models (Leaders) who spent time sharing their own methods of rising up above suffering to find new personal strengths and resilience, against all the odds. People who modelled this mindset in practice.
- Innate characteristics in certain people who find it within themselves to stand up and find a path that sees their situation as an opportunity to rise above it and beyond it, and to become better and more able because of it. (although I feel these characteristics are only raised and activated by the influence of those around them, or as a result of great internal gifts).
I really do find it inspiring to see and experience how people transcend their tragedy and their oppression, and how they rise up and become stronger and better in spite of their situations. These people are the lucky ones in that they were exposed to people and mindsets that allowed them to activate this way of seeing suffering, but they are also the bravest and most courageous people I know. It takes hard work and a lot of bravery to see suffering as a major teacher in personal growth.
I take my hat off to those who find value and transformation from their suffering, and who never stop or give up in finding a reason to take what is happening to them and ask ‘how is this helping me to see my way to becoming a better me and a more resilient player in my life?’
Spend some time asking yourself some questions:
- What is my mindset about suffering?
- What can I learn from my approach towards difficulty?
- How have I grown and developed when things have been tough
- What do I need to let go of when I am struggling?
- What do I need to develop more of when I am struggling?
A last thought from Victor Frankl, a psychologist and holocaust survivor. During this time, he lost everything, including his entire family who perished in the camps.
“When we are no longer able to change a situation, we are challenged to change ourselves. Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom. Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms—to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.”
Check out this video for some extra motivation…