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The Necessity of Suffering

The Buddhist’s First Noble Truth necessary on the path to liberation is that ‘Life is suffering.’ Similarly, philosopher Martin Heidegger stated, “The soul’s greatness takes its measure from its capacity to … be … at home in pain.” 

According to therapist Alfried Langle we suffer for many reasons. He suggested that all possible forms of suffering can be attributed to one, or a combination, of the causes of suffering.

Physical suffering is pain in the form of body injuries, illnesses and functional disorders such as problems with sleep or migraines. 

Psychological suffering occurs with the loss of something valuable or cherished. We may experience feelings such as anxiety, grief and stress. Sometimes this suffering is accompanied with emotional numbness or emptiness.  

Psychic suffering brings the experience of self-alienation and not being oneself. This type of suffering is attributed to a lack of something that is needed for us to feel a fulfilled existence. Feelings attributed to this type of suffering include insecurity, breach of trust, despair, absence of relationship or connection, remorse, or guilt.  

Existential suffering evokes feelings of futility and meaninglessness. This form of suffering emerges from a lack of alignment with a larger framework in which we can understand our lives and the often senseless acts of fate. 

Suffering throws us into an excruciatingly difficult place; yet, for what purpose?  Jung stated that one “needs difficulties; they are necessary for health.” Ram Dass agreed: “Suffering is part of our training program for becoming wise.” However, what exactly does suffering bring?

According to psychologist Ken Wilber, suffering “smashes to pieces the complacency of our normal fictions about reality, and forces us to become alive in a special sense – to see carefully, to feel deeply, to touch ourselves and our worlds in ways we have heretofore avoided.”

Wilbur further stated that when we suffer we begin “to awaken to deeper realities, truer realities.” Suffering is the soul demanding our attention, shouting that something is deeply off within our psyches. 

The pain of suffering has much to do with the ego wrestling with new parts of ourselves that need attention. We begin to question the myths (lies) we have been living by. Something has to change!

The final suffering comes with losing parts of our selves – outdated roles, beliefs and preconceptions – that no longer serve us. Suffering brings loss and grief. And, with the loss and pain comes growth and renewal – improved psychic ‘health.’

Novelist ÑBen Okri wrote, “The most authentic thing about us is our capacity to create, to overcome, to endure, to transform, to love, and to be greater than our suffering.” How do we rise upon the suffering?

Trotsky advised, “The meaning of suffering is hidden, and is revealed only to him who knows how to accept and bear it.” We accept it and look for our inner wisdom that will shift ego’s ways to a more satisfying and meaningful way of being.

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Diane Hancox, MA, CCC provides counselling services to Parksville, Qualicum Beach, Nanaimo and Vancouver Island.