Ethan Remmel: One of the most helpful things I’ve read since I got sick is Victor Frankl’s book “Man’s Search for Meaning.” Frankl was a psychiatrist who survived Nazi concentration camps in World War II. He experienced and observed suffering far, far greater than mine, but emerged with his humanity intact. He argues that people can endure immense suffering if they can find meaning in their experience. He acknowledges that it can be hard to find meaning in suffering when there is no hope of recovery or relief, but suggests that sometimes the meaning is simply in how one bears one’s condition. We cannot always control our circumstances, but we can control our attitude toward them. We always have the choice to retain our humanity, and that final freedom cannot be taken from us.

http://www.google.com/search?q=finding+meaning+in+suffering+images&hl=en&tbm=isch&tbo=u&source=univ&sa=X&ei=4q0yUcyGMI3wigKY5ICICQ&ved=0CC0QsAQ&biw=1365&bih=957#imgrc=bnXoilapSmmbPM%3A%3BVoQ2B5ftwwY1aM%3Bhttp%253A%252F%252Fpaxilwithdrawals.webs.com%252Fbeautiful.jpg%3Bhttp%253A%252F%252Fsurvivingantidepressants.org%252Findex.php%253F%252Ftopic%252F2877-finding-meaning-in-suffering-and-pain%252F%3B550%3B412

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http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/living-while-dying/201104/the-meaning-suffering

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Living While Dying

    Learning to live in the face of cancer. 

    by Ethan Remmel, Ph.D. 

The Meaning of Suffering

      A roller-coaster week. 

Published on April 10, 2011 by Ethan Remmel, Ph.D. in Living While Dying

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http://www.uucava.org/page/awakening-to-the-meaning-of

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 We will be more likely to find meaning in the suffering we must endure, I believe, if we find our way to eliminating suffering that is needless. Eckhart Tolle suggests that we suffer needlessly when we hold others responsible for our pain. Just listen to talk radio or Fox news, and you can see that we live in a culture that practices outrage. Tolle says this habit of blaming and cultivating outrage, anger, resentment, and other negative emotions strengthens what he calls our“pathological ego,” which blocks us from knowing the truth about ourselves and the human condition.

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        Tolle suggests that all the painful memories we have accumulated over a lifetime exist in an entity he calls the “pain body.” I find this a useful concept. It helps me know that though I may suffer, I am not my suffering; I am something else, a person of inherent worth and dignity, a child of God [as a Christian]. Grounded in this knowledge I can step outside my pain-body and observe it from a little distance, at least in moments.

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http://open.salon.com/blog/light_of_selah/2010/02/21/finding_meaning_in_pain_and_suffering_a_love_story

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Peace Be Still: Finding Meaning In Pain And Suffering

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                   In The Light of Selah

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“Too often our sensibilities are assaulted and bludgeoned by all that seems bad in the world: the T.V. bulletins of the day’s horrors, the full, graphic story we get by watching the eleven o’clock news.  Why do we allow ugliness to assume such an overriding importance in our lives?  If we don’t cast it out with determination, it will surely blind us to all the bright reality around us.  If only we could step out of our perceptual traps and see that beauty and goodness comprises at least an equal part of what there is.  What a miracle would unfold in this world of negativity if we all subscribed to this one simple idea.”            A passage from, “Bus 9 to Paradise – A Loving Voyage,” by Leo Buscaglia

 
Finding Meaning In Pain and Suffering
 
Victor Frankl, a Jewish psychiatrist imprisoned by the Nazis in World War II, once said, “Man is ready and willing to shoulder any suffering as soon and as long as he can see a meaning in it.”  Frankl used his brutal and inhumane experience in the concentration camps to gain insight into how people survived the atrocities.  Closely observing who survived and who didn’t, he determined that survival wasn’t based on youth or physical strength but rather on the strength derived from purpose, and the discovery of meaning in one’s life and experience.

 

Finding meaning in suffering is a powerful method of helping us to cope even during the most trying times in our lives.  But finding meaning in our suffering is not an easy task.  Suffering often seems to occur at random, senselessly and indiscriminately, with no meaning at all, let alone a purposeful or a positive meaning.  And while we are in the midst of our pain and suffering, all our energy is focused on getting away from it.  During periods of acute crisis and tragedy, it seems impossible to reflect on any possible meaning behind our suffering.  At those times, there is often little we can do but to endure.  And it’s natural to view our suffering as senseless and unfair, and wonder, “Why me?”  Fortunately, however, during times of comparative ease, periods before or after acute experiences of suffering, we can reflect on suffering, seeking to develop an understanding of it’s meaning.  And the time and effort we spend searching for meaning in suffering will pay great rewards when bad things begin to strike.  But in order to reap those rewards, we must begin our search for meaning when things are going well.  A tree with strong roots can withstand the most violent storm, but the tree can’t grow roots just as the storm appears on the horizon.

So where do we begin our search for meaning in suffering?  For many people, the search begins with their religious traditions.  Although different religions may have different ways of understanding the meaning and purpose of human suffering, every world religion offers strategies for responding to suffering based on it’s underlying beliefs.  In the Buddhist and Hindu models, for example, suffering is a result of our own negative past actions and is seen as a catalyst for seeking spiritual liberation.

In the Judeo-Christian tradition, the universe was created by a good and just God, and even though His master plan may be mysterious and indecipherable at times, our faith and trust in His plan allows us to tolerate our suffering more easily, trusting, as the Talmud says, that “Everything God does, He does for the best.”  Life may still be painful, but like the pain a woman experiences in childbirth, we trust that the pain will be outweighed by the ultimate good it produces.  The challenge in these traditions lies in the fact that, unlike in childbirth, the ultimate good is often not revealed to us.  Still, those with a strong faith in God are sustained by a belief in God’s ultimate purpose for our suffering, as a Hasidic sage advises, “When a man suffers, he ought not to say, ‘That’s bad!  That’s bad!  Nothing God imposes on man is bad.  But it is all right to say, ‘That’s bitter!  That’s bitter!’  For among medicines, there are some that are made with bitter herbs.  So, from the Judea-Christian perspective, suffering can serve many purposes: it can test and potentially strengthen our faith, it can bring us closer to God in a very fundamental and intimate way, or it can loosen the bonds to the material world and make us cleave to God as our refuge.

While a person’s religious tradition may offer valuable assistance in finding meaning, even those who do not subscribe to a religious worldview may upon careful reflection find meaning and value behind their suffering.  Despite the universal unpleasantness, there is little doubt that our suffering can test, strengthen, and deepen the experiences of life.  Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., once said, “What does not destroy me, makes me stronger.”  And while it is natural to recoil from suffering, suffering can also challenge us and at times even bring out the best in us.  In The Third Man, author Graham Green observes, “In Italy for thirty years under the Borgias, they had warfare, terror, murder, and bloodshed: but they produced Michelangelo, Leonardo da Vinci, and the Renaissance Age.  In Switzerland, they have brotherly love, five hundred years of democracy and peace, and what did they produce?  The cuckoo clock?”

While at times suffering can serve to toughen us, to strengthen us, at other times it can have value by functioning in the opposite manner—to soften us, to make us more sensitive and gentle.  The vulnerability we experience in the midst of our suffering can open us and deepen our connection with others.  The poet William Wordsworth once claimed, “A deep distress hath humanized my soul.” 

In illustrating this humanizing effect of suffering, an acquaintance (from years ago) and a former co-worker, Robert, comes to mind.  Robert started a company of his own; shortly after he resign from the company that him & I worked at.  Several years later, he suffered a serious financial setback that triggered a severe immobilizing depression. I ran into him one day, during a time when he was in the depths of his depression.  I had always known Robert to be a model of confidence and enthusiasm, and I was alarmed to see him looking so despondent. After saying hello & with intense anguish in his voice, Robert reported, “This is the worst I’ve ever felt in my life.  I just can’t seem to shake it.  I didn’t know that it was even possible to feel so overwhelmed and hopeless and out of control.

Several week’s later, I called Robert’s home and spoke to Robert’s wife Betty and asked her how he was doing.  “He’s doing much better thanks.  Of course, it’s still going to take a while for us to work through the problems with the business, but he’s feeling much better now and we’re going to be all right…”  I responded, “I’m really glad to hear that.” Betty hesitated a moment, then confided, “You know I hated to see him go through that depression.  But in a way, I think it has been a blessing.  One night during a fit of depression he began crying uncontrollably.  He couldn’t stop.  I ended up just holding him in my arms for hours while he wept, until he finally fell asleep.  In twenty-three years of marriage, that’s the first time something like that has happened…and to be honest I’ve never felt so close to him in my life.  And even though his depression is better now, things are different somehow.  Something seemed to just break open…and that feeling of closeness is still there.  The fact that he shared his problem and we went through it together somehow changed our relationship, made us much closer.”

Recently, I had to admit my own emotional insufficiency; regarding the affects of fear & the torment that followed.  I had to seek the counsel of someone that I confided in years ago.  I immediately ask my counselor/friend (who also practices Buddhism); “are there other ways that our suffering can be seened as having some meaning, or at least the contemplation of our suffering as having some pratical value?”  Yes,” he replied, “definitely.  Within the Buddhist path, reflecting on suffering has tremendous importance because by realizing the nature of suffering, one will develop greater resolve to put an end to the causes of suffering and the tormenting emotions that follow…which contributes to even more suffering.  This will increase one’s enthusiasm for engaging in the actions and feelings that lead to greater happiness and joy.”  “And do you see any benefits of reflecting on suffering for non-Buddhists?” I asked.  “Yes, I think it can have some practical value in some situations .  For example, reflecting on your suffering can reduce your arrogance, your feeling of conceit.  “Of course,” he laughed heartily, “this may not be seen as a practical benefit or be a convincing reason for someone who doesn’t consider arrogance or pride to be a fault.”

Becoming more serious, he added, “But anyway, I think that there is one aspect to our experience of suffering that is of vital importance.  When you are aware of your pain and suffering, it helps you to develop your capacity for empathy, the capacity that allows you to relate to other people’s feelings and suffering.  This enhances your capacity for compassion towards others.  So as an aid in helping us connect with others, it can be seen as having value.  Looking at suffering in these ways, our attitude may begin to change, our suffering may not be as worthless and as bad as we once thought.”

With all of that said…I believe that the very purpose of our lives is to seek happiness.  That is clear.  Whether one believes in religion or not, whether one believes in this religion or that religion, we are all seeking something better in life.  So, I think the very motion of our life is toward happiness.

If we manitain a feeling of compassion, loving kindness, then something automatically opens your inner door.  Through that, we can communicate more easily with other people.  And that feeling of warmth creates (ironically) a kind of openness. We’ll find that all human beings are just like us, so we’ll be able to relate to them more easily.  That gives us a spirit of friendship.  Then there’s less need to hide things, and as a result, feelings of fear, self-doubt, anger, and insecurity are automatically dispelled.

In our daily lives, problems are bound to arise.  The biggest problems in our lives are the ones that we inevitably have to face, like old age, illness, and death.  Trying to avoid our problems or simply not thinking about them may provide temporary relief; but I think that there is a better approach.  If we directly confront our suffering, we will be in a better position to appreciate the depth and nature of the problem.  If we are in battle, as long as we remain ignorant of the status and combat capability of your enemy, you will be totally unprepared and paralyzed by fear.  However, if we know the fighting capability of our opponents (even those battles within oneself); what sort of weapons are being unleashed against us & what weapons are we unleashing toward ourselves and so on (the the overall affects on our lives and our loved ones); then we’re in a much better position when we engage in war…a war that is obstructing our individual pursuit of happiness.  In the same way, if we confront our problems rather than avoid them, or look for distractions from them, or look to others to solve them for us; we will be in a more strengthened and better position to deal with them.

                   Love&Light To All

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                   In the Light of Selah

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https://curtisnarimatsu.wordpress.com/2013/03/02/victor-tan-chen-on-frankl-the-last-freedom-most-fundamental-freedom-of-all-the-freedom-to-choose-ones-attitude-in-any-given-set-of-circumstances/

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http://inthefray.org/joomla/content/view/1474/39

http://inthefray.org/joomla/content/view/1475/39

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For a while now I’ve been meaning to mention some books that have been on my mind and on my bookshelves — some newly published, most quite old. The problem is that with any good book, there are a hundred different things to talk about, and I never have the patience to write a comprehensive review. Capsule reviews, on the other hand, don’t give you a chance to say much of interest. So I’m going to limit myself to some random thoughts about random books, with the hope that whatever I say piques your interest enough to read the full work. (It goes without saying that I’ll only mention books worth reading. It’s hard enough for most people to pick up a book, so why waste your time on a mediocre one?)

* Today I’ll discuss a book by book by Austrian psychiatrist Viktor Frankl, Man’s Search for Meaning, which was first published in 1959. It is perhaps the most accessible book by a psychiatrist you will ever read. The first part tells the story of Frankl’s experiences as a prisoner of Nazi concentration camps during World War II. The second part outlines the tenets of logotherapy, an approach to psychotherapy that maintains that what drives human beings is not the search for pleasure or power, but rather meaning — however the individual defines it.

* What Frankl does in his relatively short book can only be called ambitious — who else would dare to have subject headings like “The Meaning of Life” and “The Essence of Existence”? Yet, unlike so many self-help gurus and modern-day philosophizers, Frankl manages to rise above caricature. One reason, of course, is the iconic horror of what he and others experienced in Auschwitz, Dachau, and other Nazi-run camps. Frankl’s autobiography is the grim foreground of the book’s first part and the essential background of its second, offering us a rare glimpse of humanity at its worst and best. When Frankl speaks of the meaning of life, we know his words to be credible, the testament of a man who survived life at its cruelest and salvaged meaning from its most nihilistic depths.

* But this is not just a Holocaust story. What I found to be most valuable in Frankl’s book is its insistence that the lessons of Auschwitz apply in any situation, in any individual’s life. Fate, in fact, matters little. What matters is how human beings respond to it. Can we find meaning in our suffering, regardless of how arbitrary and maddening it may seem? Do we bear the inevitable misfortunes that befall us — all of us, eventually — with grace and dignity? Indeed, many of us are blessed with liberties and comforts unknown to the camp prisoner, and yet we still show an inability to make use of the most fundamental freedom of all — the freedom “to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances.”

* This is not to say that all of Frankl’s fellow prisoners (or even Frankl himself, as he suggests in the book) chose virtuously in the concentration camp. The majority did not. There were many, in fact, who allowed the brutality of the conditions there to eviscerate their humanity. These men were selected to be Capos — prisoners with special privileges — and as Nazi stooges they treated their fellow prisoners more cruelly than the guards themselves, Frankl points out. Likewise, among the guards there were many who perversely enjoyed their work of torture and killing, and yet there were also a few who showed unexpected kindness to their prisoners. It seems the same choice was posed even to them, the captors: Would they allow the baseness of their surroundings to destroy them? “It is apparent that the mere knowledge that a man was either a camp guard or a prisoner tells us almost nothing,” Frankl writes.

Human kindness can be found in all groups, even those which as a whole it would be easy to condemn. The boundaries between groups overlapped and we must not try to simplify matters by saying that these men were angels and those were devils. Certainly, it was a considerable achievement for a guard or foreman to be kind to the prisoners in spite of all the camp’s influences, and, on the other hand, the baseness of a prisoner who treated his own companions badly was exceptionally contemptible. Obviously the prisoners found the lack of character in such men especially upsetting, while they were profoundly moved by the smallest kindness received from any of the guards. I remember one day a foreman secretly gave me a piece of bread which I knew he must have saved from his breakfast ration. It was far more than the small piece of bread which moved me to tears at that time. It was the human “something” which this man also gave to me — the word and look which accompanied the gift.

Frankl here shows a remarkable ability to empathize even with his Nazi captors, and in doing so he demonstrates the fundamental truth of his teaching: the ability of every individual to reject the corruption and the blindness of hate and to see the world as it is, without illusion, without cynicism.

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Here below is about what meaning Frankl’s book has for a modern culture obsessed with avoiding suffering.

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I wrote about Viktor Frankl’s book Man’s Search for Meaning and its message that human beings could choose their way in life, in spite of any hardships. The philosophy can be summed up in a few words from the German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche that Frankl quotes repeatedly: “He who has a why to live for can bear almost any how.” This why can come from various sources, and it does not stay the same over the course of a lifetime; its origin, Frankl says, “differs from man to man, from day to day and from hour to hour.”

* Frankl discusses three different ways that individuals go about discovering meaning in their lives.

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The first is by “creating a work or doing a deed.” This is usually what we think about when we hear someone talking about finding “meaning” in their life. Through creative work we lose ourselves in a greater principle or cause.

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The second is more passive, a matter of “experiencing something or encountering someone” — in a word, enjoyment. This may mean contemplating the beauty of nature, or savoring the intricacies of culture, or simply loving another human being. In one of his more eloquent passages, Frankl describes love as a way of becoming aware of the “very essence” of another person, of understanding “what he can be and … what he should become,” and by doing so helping the loved one to reach his potential. A few of us will be able to find meaning in our lives through the utilization of unique and valued talents. Some may find meaning in experiences of love, or encounters with the beauty that surrounds us. But for others there will not be those consolations. For many, even the blessings of achievement and love will be fleeting, forgotten or lost with the passage of years.

* But the third path is open to all. It was the one alternative left to many of those trapped, along with Frankl, within the automaton existence of the concentration camp. Some of these prisoners had once been learned, wealthy individuals with power and prestige, others had known the love of partners and children, but in the nakedness and poverty of camp life even these seemingly intangible possessions had been stripped from them — for many, irrevocably so. What remained to these men and women was a choice. Would they give into the humiliation and terror that enveloped them, or would they choose to show courage, dignity, and compassion in spite of their surroundings?

The way in which a man accepts his fate and all the suffering it entails, the way in which he takes up his cross, gives him ample opportunity — even under the most difficult circumstances — to add a deeper meaning to his life. It may remain brave, dignified and unselfish. Or in the bitter fight for self-preservation he may forget his human dignity and become no more than an animal. Here lies the chance for a man either to make use of or to forgo the opportunities of attaining the moral values that a difficult situation may afford him. And this decides whether he is worth of his sufferings or not.

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This ability to conquer suffering should not be confused with masochism, Frankl emphasizes: Avoidable suffering should always be avoided.

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But especially in today’s more affluent, technologically sophisticated societies, there is a tendency to delude ourselves into thinking that all suffering can be avoided, and that any kind of suffering is meaningless.

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Frankl’s experience in the concentration camps is testimony to the contrary. “If there is a meaning in life at all, then there must be a meaning in suffering,” Frankl observes. “Suffering is an ineradicable part of life, even as fate and death. Without suffering and death human life cannot be complete.”

* The problem is that we see suffering as destruction, a pathway to that most absolute destruction of all, death. Suffering closes off our possibilities; it degrades our most important possessions of mind and body; it saps away our potential for future life, future achievement.

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For a similar reason we fear old age, that most gradual form of suffering that all of us must endure. In a society in love with youthfulness, suffering and old age inspire dread not only for the difficulties they present, but also for the shame they burden us with — the shame of no longer being useful, of being contrary to the universal order of happiness.

* Yet Frankl reminds us how foolish those fears are.

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The suffering that awaits us can be ennobling.

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To bear it with dignity can be our life’s greatest achievement.

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Why envy the youthful, then? The promises of their future potential are mere shadows, while the joys of a moment well-lived remain with us to our ends.

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“Usually, to be sure, man considers only the stubble field of transitoriness and overlooks the full granaries of the past, wherein he had salvaged once and for all his deeds, his joys and also his sufferings,” Frankl writes. *

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Nothing can be undone, and nothing can be done away with. I should say having been is the surest kind of being.”

* When the future is lost to us, the meaning of our lives may only then become clear. Frankl tells us the story of a young woman he met in the camps, a woman who knew she would die in the next few days.

… when I talked to her she was cheerful in spite of this knowledge. “I am grateful fate has hit me so hard,” she told me. “In my former life I was spoiled and did not take spiritual accomplishments seriously.” Pointing through the window of the hut, she said, “This tree here is the only friend I have in my loneliness.” Through that window she could see just one branch of a chestnut tree, and on the branch were two blossoms. “I often talk to this tree,” she said to me. I was startled and didn’t quite know how to take her words. Was she delirious? Did she have occasional hallucinations? Anxiously I asked her if the tree replied. “Yes.” What did it say to her? She answered, “It said to me, ‘I am here — I am here — I am life, eternal life.’”

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https://curtisnarimatsu.wordpress.com/2013/02/23/radical-commitment-and-nothing-less-makes-a-marriage-thrive-sage-steven-kalas/

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https://curtisnarimatsu.wordpress.com/2013/02/22/by-putting-aside-our-selfish-interests-to-serve-someone-or-something-larger-than-ourselves-by-devoting-our-lives-to-giving-rather-than-taking/

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https://curtisnarimatsu.wordpress.com/2013/02/21/greatest-sage-viktor-frankl-what-is-to-give-light-must-endure-burning/

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