Friday, December 10, 2010

Food for Thought Friday

An excerpt from The Pursuit of Perfect by Tal Ben-Shahar, Ph.D

[T]he four benefits of suffering: wisdom, resilience, compassion, and a deep respect for reality.

Wisdom emerges from the experience of suffering.  When things go well we rarely stop to ask questions about our lives and predicament.  A difficult situation, however, often forces us out of our mindless state, causing us to reflect on our experiences.  To be able to see deeply, to develop what King Solomon referred to as a wise heart, we must brave the eye of the storm.

Nietzsche, a wise man himself, famously remarked that what does not kill us, makes us stronger.  Suffering can make us more resilient, better able to endure hardships. Just as a muscle, in order to build up, must endure some pain, so our emotions must endure pain in order to strengthen.  Helen Keller, who in her lifetime knew much suffering, as well as joy, noted that "character cannot be developed in ease and quiet.  Only through experience of trial and suffering can the soul be strengthened, vision cleared, ambition inspired, and success achieved."

Everybody hurts sometimes, and allowing ourselves to feel this universal emotion links us together in a web of compassion.  The dictionary defines compassion as a "deep awareness of the suffering of another coupled with the wish to relieve it," but the only way we can gain a deep awareness of the suffering of others is by having suffered ourselves.  A theoretical understanding of suffering is as meaningless as a theoretical description of the color blue to a blind person.  To know it, we need to experience it.

One of the most significant benefits of suffering is that it breeds a deep respect for reality, for what is.  While the experience of joy connects us to the realm of infinite possibilities, the experience of pain reminds us of our limitations.  When, despite all our efforts, we get hurt, we are humbled by constraints that we sometimes fail to notice when we are flying high.

A deep respect for reality implies an acceptance of what is - of our potential, our limitation and our humanity.  Recognizing that suffering is integral to our lives and that there are other benefits to pain, such as the cultivation of wisdom and compassion, we become more accepting of our suffering. And when we truly accept grief and sorrow as inevitable, we actually suffer less.



worthy said...

Beautiful words Ann. I know I was far from perfect before I started on this journey - it has made me a better person.

CS said...

Thank you, Ann. The last 2 paragraphs especially speak to me. I'm trying to find the meaning to all of this. I know I'll find it through reading and listening to the people who are going through this with me. -Caty

Susan said...

I really appreciate this post Ann. Though I don't want to be any more resilient.

I might need to read that book. Have a good weekend.

Christy said...

Love this post, Ann. Love it. Nice to know that we are going to be some of the strongest people on earth, right? ;-)