Meaning in Suffering
I was fully prepared to write a simple blog post today directing you to a terrific grammar related post from Robyn, our publisher, over on her personal blog. However, in preparing to do so I stumbled over a quote in my personal stash of “Words to Live By” and was led to write something incredibly different. I’ll be sure to post about Robyn’s grammar situation soon, but in the meantime here’s what moved me today…
“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.”
—-Viktor E. Frankl
Frankl was an Austrian neurologist and psychiatrist, and a Holocaust survivor. His bestselling book Man’s Search for Meaning* documents his experience as a concentration camp prisoner and shares his discovery that through the most painful, sordid experiences, one still has the opportunity to find meaning in life. Frankl believed that even great suffering has meaning, a purpose.
Life is all about how you see it. How you live it. How you choose to react to your personal circumstances. And how you then give of yourself to touch others.
When faced with difficulty, take a moment to step away from the here and now. As Frankl said, “Between stimulus and response there is a space.” Between whatever it is you are experiencing and your reaction to that experience is space, a pause in time. Take that pause. Take a deep breath and detach yourself from the moment and grant yourself the power to choose your reaction. The way in which you react to your situation will lay the foundation for happiness, if you so choose.
Ask yourself, “What can I learn from this experience? What is the meaning in my suffering?”
Perhaps you are grieving the loss of someone dear to you and the lesson is that you need to be more appreciative of those around you while you have them. Or perhaps the loss of a life is a reminder to be more grateful for your own. The fact that you are alive—kicking and screaming and fighting for every moment perhaps, but alive—means you have the opportunity for “growth and freedom.”
Once you have discovered your lesson/the meaning, seek out your purpose. You have a reason for being here on this earth. It may be simple in your eyes, but to someone else you—your purpose—is great. Share your talents. Share your knowledge. Share your story. You never know who may need to hear it.
*Also published as From Death-Camp to Existentialism and Nevertheless, Say “Yes” to Life: A Psychologist Experiences the Concentration Camp.