I once read a quote that said, “The believer in creation has to explain the existence of one thing – suffering. The believer in evolution has to explain the existence of everything else.”
I resonated with this quote because I had been taught to believe in creation and thankfully, I was raised in a religion that had a very logical explanation for the existence of suffering (or so I thought at the time).
As I started to expand my world and separate from my former religious views, I was left with one challenge. How to explain why people suffer? This left me frustrated because without my former belief, how was I supposed to reconcile the suffering we see in the world with my belief in a loving Creator?
I’ve learned that if you sit with a question long enough, an answer will come. And so as I’ve pondered, studied and observed for years people and how they handle suffering, I’ve come to a theory I’d like to share.
I believe that we are supposed to do something with our suffering. It’s existence (and therefore our Creator’s allowance of it) means it has a purpose. Now I admit when we see some of the atrocities that take place in the world, it is difficult to grasp this. Which is why I think so many people don’t.
But if you’re open to it, here is what I think we do with our suffering depending on where we are on the path to “Enlightenment.”
- Become a perpetrator. Most people who perpetrate violence and inflict pain on others were violated themselves in some way. It is a fact that most sexual predators were victims of sexual abuse themselves. This is NOT a justification for the behavior. It is the darkest thing you can do with your own suffering.
- Become a victim. Let me be clear. If you suffered any kind of abuse at the hands of someone, you were a victim. Whether you continue to be a victim of that abuse is up to you. Victimization takes two forms – passive and active. Passive victims bury their suffering in denial and repression. Active victims suffer emotionally by continuing to replay the abuse for anyone who will listen (including therapists!).
- Excuse it. This is where religion is helpful. Satan, the Devil, or whatever the existence of evil is in your interpretation that makes us suffer until salvation comes. While this isn’t the most empowering reason for suffering, it at least gives the believer a reason to explain it and a hope that it will eventually end when the source of the wickedness is destroyed or removed.
- Learn from it. This is where enlightenment begins when you can recognize the good in what happened. Many times when we come through a difficult experience, we find ourselves stronger than we believed, in gratitude of what we have, and determined to focus on the good that comes into our lives. As great as this stage is, it isn’t the highest form of enlightenment.
- Teach from it. The highest form of enlightenment is when you can take your suffering, detach from the personal wounds and use your experience as a catalyst to help others who are suffering the same thing. I can think of a long list of people who have done this. Survivors of genocide, child abuse, cancer, natural disasters, or violent attacks who have all gone on to use their experience to help others. Some even come out of the experience thankful for it.
Believe me, I know this is hard concept to grasp. Especially because with this theory we can’t see the end in sight. If there isn’t a Nirvana (or Paradise or Heaven) where suffering won’t exist anymore, what’s the solution?
I believe that the more we become enlightened (healing from our wounds and teaching others) and the more we help others become enlightened, the less suffering will be perpetuated. Yes, the focus is now on our own personal growth and responsibility.
Many people we coach wonder about their purpose and why they are here. I believe this theory points us to our purpose. Or as I once heard a very wise woman once say, “Make your mess your message.”