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August 14th is the holiday known as “Armistice Day,” a “celebration” of the surrender of the Japanese in WWII. I guess we could agree that the end of any war is worthy of celebration, but the act of war itself is filled with unfathomable human suffering.
Yet, human suffering itself is not limited to war. Today, around the world, we see human suffering caused by economic instability, ineffectual governments, Man’s inhumanity to Man, and the lack of earthly resources, such as food and water, the very basic needs of human existence. We thought that these issues would be passe´ by now in an advancing world, but, despite some progress, these conditions seem to be realities of life, not aberrations.
In her new book, “Tears to Triumph: The Spiritual Journey from Suffering to Enlightenment,” Marianne Williamson addresses the topic of human suffering from a spiritual perspective. Her messages are important for our world today. We would be wise to incorporate them in our collective human behavior.
Rather than viewing human suffering as a condition that often prompts people to seek medication to mask the pain and to help them “recover,” Ms. Williamson reminds us that suffering is a condition from which we can not only emerge, but emerge from in a more enlightened state than before. She reminds us that we seek happiness in the external world, a world that is bound to disappoint us, thus leading to our own levels of suffering. As Buddha said, “the external world will provide only temporary happiness, at best.”
We have heard this more positive approach to dealing with suffering in many famous expressions intended to strengthen our attitudes, motivation and resolve: “What doesn’t kill us makes us stronger,” “Learn from your mistakes,” “In order to recover, one must “bottom out,” “Don’t make the same mistake twice,” “You were the victim of circumstance,” and others. In other words, strength should follow suffering. Some people simply choose another path of pain.
Joel Osteen, Pastor of the Lakewood Baptist Church in Houston, Texas, has some great advice for people who are suffering. Perhaps they feel that their lives have not been what they had hoped for, whether due to their own actions, or because they have just “drawn the wrong card” in life. Echoing the advice commonly credited to Charles Dederich, founder of Synanon, Pastor Osteen recommends making today “the first day of the rest of your life.” He suggests that “one can be anyone that one wants to be” going forward in life. Drug abuser? Start today to end your addiction. Hurt someone? Make amends, say you’re sorry, and end your hurtful ways. Living a crime-filled life? Change your ways and start living a crime-free life today. It’s great advice.
But it starts with self-awareness and recognition. Sometimes this is the “bottom” of our lives. When we finally achieve the daylight of self-recognition, the goal should not be to deny our suffering and our past, but to move beyond it. It is a daily choice to be something more today than we were the previous day, each day of our lives. If this resonates with you in your own life, relish the joy of seeing the faces of those around you who recognize that you are somehow different today!
So start today to overcome and grow from your suffering. Move beyond it and “make life good” for others. As the Beatles wrote, “And in the end, the love you take is equal to the love you make.”
It can happen.