beth israel deaconess medical center a harvard medical school teaching hospital

To find a doctor, call 800-667-5356 or click below:

Find a Doctor

Request an Appointment

left banner
right banner
Smaller Larger

The Value of Suffering

Posted 9/9/2013

Posted in

  For better or for worse, I seem to be in a literary frame of mine (see yesterday's blog), and this marvelous essay from The New York Times is well worth your time. Actually, it should be required reading for anyone who has wrestled with one of life's central questions: Why do we suffer? And, of course, it goes on endlessly from there: Why do particular people suffer so much? Is there a God? If so, how can S/He allow this to happen? Is there any value from suffering or inherent reward from the pain?

  There are so many kinds of pain in this world. Any of us, having been diagnosed with cancer and endured treatment of greater or less intensity and difficulty, has experienced one kind. I suspect that most of us, with the exception of only a few very lucky souls, have experienced greater pain at other moments. My own worst suffering was related to the death of my five day old grandson, James. Losing him, losing the dream of him, was agonizing, but far worse was my daughter's pain, and my inability to do anything, anything at all, that could help her. Witnessing a child's suffering, and being unable to soothe her, is exquisite torture.

  I am giving you the beginning of this extraordinary piece from The Raindancer website because you will be able to link to the whole thing there. This is the start and then the link:

The Value of Suffering (via The New York Times)
by Pico Iyer

Hundreds of Syrians are apparently killed by chemical weapons, and the attempt to protect others from that fate threatens to kill many more. A child perishes with her mother in a tornado in Oklahoma, the month after an 8-year-old is slain by a bomb in Boston. Runaway trains claim dozens of lives in otherwise placid Canada and Spain. At least 46 people are killed in a string of coordinated bombings aimed at an ice cream shop, bus station and famous restaurant in Baghdad. Does the torrent of suffering ever abate — and can one possibly find any point in suffering?

Wise men in every tradition tell us that suffering brings clarity, illumination; for the Buddha, suffering is the first rule of life, and insofar as some of it arises from our own wrongheadedness — our cherishing of self — we have the cure for it within. Thus in certain cases, suffering may be an effect, as well as a cause, of taking ourselves too seriously. I once met a Zen-trained painter in Japan, in his 90s, who told me that suffering is a privilege, it moves us toward thinking about essential things and shakes us out of shortsighted complacency; when he was a boy, he said, it was believed you should pay for suffering, it proves such a hidden blessing.

Yet none of that begins to apply to a child gassed to death (or born with AIDS or hit by a “limited strike”). Philosophy cannot cure a toothache, and the person who starts going on about its long-term benefits may induce a headache, too. Anyone who’s been close to a loved one suffering from depression knows that the vicious cycle behind her condition means that, by definition, she can’t hear the logic or reassurances we extend to her; if she could, she wouldn’t be suffering from depression.


Add your comment