What got me thinking about suffering and its deeper purpose was some life-altering occurrences in the lives of friends and relatives recently. While one friend was deeply grateful for the opportunity she got to take care of her octogenarian father with dementia and age-related illnesses that saw them in and out of hospitals in the last three months before he passed on, another came in the form of an elderly relative — a cancer survivor, who sustained a fracture post chemo and was wondering aloud about why God gave her husband (a stroke patient) and her an extended lease of life and worried whether they were being a burden on the children.
There is no doubt that physical suffering can be very traumatic and trying. However, rather than looking at every day as a drag and an unnecessary cross that has to be borne it makes sense to find meaning and purpose. Suffering is a great teacher — if one is willing and inclined to learn. The experience could become a lesson in endurance and strengthen one spiritually while deepening faith and fostering hope among other things. Suffering blunts the ego literally for we all know that disease is a great leveller. You can be a VIP, you can have the best doctors at your beck and call — why, you can even be an eminent doctor yourself but you have to fight it all alone.
A few days back, I happened to read When breath becomes air, an extremely moving book by Dr Paul Kalanithi who is a brilliant neurosurgeon and writer who fought stage four lung cancer with tremendous bravery. With support from his wife Lucy Kalanithi who is also a doctor, their baby daughter Cady, family and friends they made difficult but conscious choices about comfort care, pain relief and their future and faced each day with grace, determination, faith and so much love. The book which Dr Paul wrote under extreme pain and while on medication is about maintaining clarity and focus, great teachers on how to face life under such trying circumstances. It is also about love at a deeper level.
Talking of how to overcome physical pain Eckhart Tolle best known for his The power of now says, “If you can let go of the unwillingness to suffer pain and allow the pain to be there you will notice that subtle inner separation from pain.” Turning your suffering to God and allowing His will to prevail, remembering that you are not the body will create paradigm shifts and facilitate the opening up of dimensions.
According to Paramahansa Yogananda: “Through every trial we grow. It may seem cruel but it is like fire that smelts iron ore, steel that emerges from the furnace beautifully strong, useful for many purposes. Self-realisation (yoga or oneness with truth) which is the highest branch of all human knowledge, permanently uproots the cause of man’s suffering and reveals to him his true nature of bliss through the intuitive faculty of the soul.”
When such a state of spiritual stability and self-realisation is reached, the Bhagavad Gita tells us that we are not distraught by suffering. Finally as Eckhart Tolle puts it suffering is necessary until you realise it is unnecessary.
The writer is a Reiki channel, yoga practitioner and a spiritual seeker...