Posted in after the diagnosis, coping with chronic illness, coping with life threatening illness, living with chronic illness, Living with Illness

Thomas Merton and Suffering

When I stumbled upon the works of Thomas Merton I was amazed at how prolific he was as well as the impact he could have with such a short life.  His is one of the best auto-biographies because it doesn’t follow the time line you would assume from a man considered to be one of the world’s greatest theologians and mystics.

I’m particularly interested in different religions views on suffering because it seems to be part of the process for those facing a health challenge.  The suffering isn’t necessarily physical, although it often is, but emotional and spiritual suffering have to be taken into account when discussing the role suffering plays in our lives.

Merton said, “Indeed, the truth that many people never understand, until it is too late, is that the more you tryo to avoid suffering, the more you suffer, because smaller and more insignificant things begin to torture you, in proportion to your fear of being hurt.”  That’s a powerful quote and one that seems counter-intuitive to logic.

How could suffering increase the more you try to avoid it?  I’ve been sitting with this for a while and then I just felt this deep sense of sadness.  Suffering increases as you try to avoid it because the avoidance is and of itself suffering.  There is a struggle that gets put into play the moment you try and keep what you think is suffering at arms length.  I know the idea of embracing struggle seems absurd, but by bring it in close you take the wind out of its sails making the situation more manageable.

No one wants to suffer, especially when facing a health challenge.  We each suffer in our own way and that journey of embracing suffering is highly personal.  How will you decrease your level of suffering?  What if you simply redefined what it means to suffer?  How would you face your health challenge differently if the focus were on wellness and healing instead of what you perceive to be the obstacles to wellness.

Bringing your suffering in close allows you to acknowledge how heroic you are on your journey to wellness.  Give yourself every advantage and leave the suffering to the martyrs who believe that suffering pays a dividend…we know better!