Q: I understand suffering from the perspective of the soul, as suffering often brings needed change and growth. But I’m confused when suffering doesn’t appear to have a purpose, for example, when a good person suffers due to severe illness. How can one explain this to their loved ones? How can the person suffering come to terms or even overcome what he or she is going through?
A: This is a very challenging question, as it sometimes does seem from our limited perspective that suffering serves no purpose. Obviously, we can’t know for sure, as we can’t always know now the effect the suffering that someone is experiencing may have in the future. We can get a hint of the answer to why consciousness needs suffering by noticing how much suffering opens our Heart. It seems that even though consciousness is infinite, it still likes to stretch itself by opening even wider. Eventually, we learn that we don’t need to suffer in order to open the Heart. Once we learn that suffering is not necessary, we can just go directly to love and the softness of compassion. But until we learn this, life keeps reminding us to open our Heart even wider by showing us the suffering that arises when we don’t.
Even when we have surrendered and given our Heart totally to the truth, we still experience the suffering of others, so we are inspired to reach out and show them the same love that has rescued us. The pain itself can be a good hurt, like the good hurt from exercise. In the end, it turns out that the suffering was all just an idea of suffering, and what is really happening is this stretching and unfolding of our infinite Heart. There is no suffering in the depths of love, and there never has been.
It can also help to understand the true cause of suffering. Suffering actually comes from our resistance to our experience. That is what actually hurts. There is only pain or suffering when there is sensation or experience and also resistance or struggle. The sensations and experiences by themselves are not painful. The good news is that it is actually possible to not suffer even in the midst of a very difficult experience if we simply stop resisting that experience altogether. The greatest gift you can give another is to help that person see that it isn’t necessary to suffer, even when he or she experiences tremendous loss or physical difficulty.
Sometimes the best you can do is to just be there with someone who is suffering without suffering yourself. It doesn’t serve others to suffer along with them. Instead, you can be with someone who is suffering and shine love and acceptance. The power of this example is profound, especially if you can hold your Heart wide open even when someone is struggling and angry and all of the rest. Not pulling away or trying to change another person’s experience but, instead, staying right there with that person with love and acceptance can be powerfully transformative.
Suffering is not a mistake. Paradoxically, our suffering is what finally teaches us to accept every experience and so become free of suffering. We eventually find a way to be free of suffering because resistance and struggle with life hurts. But it takes a lot of discrimination to finally see that the true cause of suffering is our struggle and resistance to an experience, especially when the problem appears to be in the experience or the intense sensations. Fortunately, suffering is a patient teacher.