If you haven’t read the previous post, it might be helpful to do so in order to provide some context to these exercises and what one can gain from them

Giving meaning to suffering is something that has to come through the “sufferer”. It is a personal, subjective, and experiential process; no one else can do it for you.

  1.  Encourage yourself to reflect on suffering, seeking to conceive and synthesize a meaning.  The time and effort spent will be rewarding, and you won’t be caught in an emotional or existential crisis during unfavorable times.  Since I think in analogies (remember the radio waves?!), here is one that fits well. A tree with strong roots can withstand the most violent storms, but the tree can’t begin to grow roots in the middle of a storm.
  2. Questions that might arise include “Why?” and “Why me?” Those are questions worth exploring- they may shape more meaning that you can ever imagine!
  3. Always remember that it’s a natural immediate response to view our suffering as senseless and unfair.  Words from Viktor Frankl might influence your response to pain, and to life: “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.”

Good luck with this process of self-advancement!

Meaning in Pain

May 4, 2011

This past month has been tough for me. I am usually a healthy, active person, but I have been in bed for almost the entire month, experiencing one kind of pain after another. It began with an incapacitating stomach ache that got diagnosed and managed; then I threw my back off and was prescribed bed-rest and pain medication; now, while the back has been crawling back to normalcy, a flare-up of a pre-existing condition has left me with really painful joints, and unable to do anything more than stay in bed. Victor Frankl– a philosopher, psychologist and psychiatrist- said in his book, “Man is ready and willing to shoulder any suffering as soon and as long as he can see a meaning in it.” I have been trying to make sense of, and find some meaning in, my situation in order to maintain a sense of wellbeing through my suffering. My first realization that pain is pain- be it physical, emotional, or existential. This post is to share my learnings and realizations.

Finding meaning in pain and suffering can be a challenging task. However, I don’t believe it needs to happen right away. In fact, it tends to be an ongoing process, with deeper and deeper meaning unfolding over time, through self-awareness and reflection. Pain and suffering, or its awareness, often occurs unexpectedly with no meaning at all. And in the midst of pain and suffering, our energy tends to be focused on getting away from it. And quick! During such times, it seems impossible to reflect on any possible meaning behind pain and suffering. At those times, there is often little we can do but to endure.

Endure, adapt, and evolve. I believe there is strength in not just actions, but also words and thoughts (And that’s why I even write this blog- to put mine out there into the world). I found some inspiration somewhere between “enduring’ and “adapting” (and many healthy tears) through words and thoughts of Vikctor Frankl. It just hit home that “When we are no longer able to change a situation – we are challenged to change ourselves”. And sometimes, the change that is required during pain is to incorporate it, and the consequent suffering, into our revised state of being.  When we have accepted our changed state of being, we don’t lose strength and energy fighting it, and we can function gracefully by adapting to the change and making necessary accommodations to how we live.  While at times suffering can serve to toughen us, or to strengthen us, my suffering has been of value by functioning in a converse way- to soften me, to make me more sensitive and gentle. I am able to accept the things I am unable to do, ask for help, and appreciate the help and love that comes my way. I am especially filled with love when my loved ones have got into bed with me just to hug me and share that space with me. It is one among many humanizing experiences.

The vulnerability we experience in the midst of our suffering can open us and deepen our connection with others.  It helps develop, maintain and nurture feelings of compassion, kindness and love (towards others as well as our own selves). That’s when you know that a shift has happened, and you evolve in a small, but significant way. Its like a feeling of openness and oneness-a realization that all human beings are just like ourselves- and we are able to relate to others more easily. The easier it is to accept ourselves (pain or no pain), the more we find that we can be accepting of others. The world is you, inside out.  True understanding and internalization of this tunes us and opens us to peace, love and happiness.

(Exercises for this topic in my next post)

Spirituality is in everyone we meet and everywhere we go. A good analogy is one of radio waves. They are all around us, but we can only experience a radio station by tuning in to the right frequency. Similarly, we are all spiritual beings and spirituality is all around us even though we might not always be consciously aware of it. The trick is to “tune in” and increase our awareness.

To demystify what spirituality feels like, here are some exercises that, I believe, can help “tune in”.

  • Begin your day with an awareness of your thoughts and feelings
  • Look at (and/or think of) your loved ones; experience the love you feel for them
  • What made you smile today?
  • Notice all the acts of kindness and goodness you encounter through your day
  • Assign a few minutes a day (perhaps at bedtime) to deliberate on all the good things in your day, and in your life. Keeping a journal can be very helpful for this.

I found these on Living Words of Wisdom and they seemed like great first steps towards an experiential understanding what it feels like to be spiritually tuned. The idea is to use these exercise to initiate attentiveness towards ourselves and our surroundings, as an important advancement towards self-awareness. When we are truly self-aware, we are in the best place to tap into our spirituality. The best and most beautiful part about self-awareness exercises is that they can be done anywhere, and at any time. And… they’re free!

Let me know how your spiritual “work out” unfolds- there are things to learn from it.

We will delve into self-awareness in more depth soon in another post. Until then, keep exercising! 😉

In my attempts at finding a coherent definition of spirituality on the web, I mostly ended  up with a frustrating and confusing mix of esoteric jargon. Therefore,  for the purpose of this blog, I felt it necessary to delineate what spirituality means.  Discussions here are intended to be had within that specific context. Busting common myths surrounding spirituality, lets begin with what spirituality is not.

  • Spirituality is not a secretive, mysterious or privileged philosophy
  • Spirituality is not tucked away in the rituals of an arcane cult, in the writings of religious scriptures, in a mystical land, in an ascetic life on a mountain top, or in a place of worship
  • It is not an approach to life that is separate from regular, everyday living

Which brings me to what spirituality is.

  • It is the quality of being aware and sensitive to things relating to the mind, the intellect and human inner nature
  • Spirituality is inherent in our daily interactions with the people in our lives, and with ourselves
  • It is the innate pursuit for bliss, peace, and love we seek in every sphere of our lives- personal, relational, and professional

To sum it up, the meaning of spirituality is the meaning of life.