Special ASA Edition: On Suffering

Digest of the Best Content about Spirituality and Aging for Boomers

On Thursday, March 13 at 8 a.m., I will be presenting on the topic of “Suffering and the Fulfillment of our Spiritual Potential in Later Life” at the American Society of Aging annual conference in San Diego, kicking off a day-long session on the topic of suffering sponsored by the Forum for Religion, Spirituality and Aging.. The presentation was developed by myself and Dr. Robert L Weber, Professor of Psychology in the Department of Psychiatry at Harvard Medical School and a former Jesuit .   

Ironically, Bob has suffered a broken shoulder and cannot attend.  We are all disappointed, but Bob is living proof of the difference between pain and suffering on many levels: physical, psychological, spiritual and existential. 

In this special edition of the Digest, here are six key questions for those who are suffering, or just as importantly, those who fear suffering in the future, to consider. 

“Nothing splendid has ever been achieved except by those who dared to believe that something inside them was superior to circumstances.”  –Bruce Barton
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Question 1: Why Would Anyone Want to Take this Subject On?              

  • Spirituality is being awake
  • Spirituality is getting rid of illusions
  • Spirituality is never being at the mercy of any event, thing, or person
  • Spirituality means having found the diamond mine inside yourself
  • Religion is intended to lead you there

Anthony de Mello, Jesuit priest and psychotherapist 

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Question 2:  What is the Difference Between Pain and Suffering?

“Left with a deep understanding of suffering and chronic pain after his accident, Miller has embraced a life steeped in humility and the big questions.  After several months of recovery, Miller was left with what he calls ‘a new body.’ ‘The gift was that it got me out of the habit of thinking about the future and comparing myself to others.  It rammed me into the present moment.  I’m actually grateful for that.  I found a new confidence.’”

On B.J. Miller  in “Wounded Healer”
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Question 3:  What is a Psychologically and Spiritually-healthy Vision of Suffering…One that neither reviles, denies or romanticizes? 

“My suffering is mine it is not me.  If the self gives way before it and becomes one with it, it succumbs.  But there is another possibility—to remain detached from it without ceasing to feel it, and is so doing, to possess it.  In this tension, the individual within us is at once present and transcended.  Suffering becomes a sort of cauterization, which burns up the individual part of my nature, and forces me to consent to its annihilation.”

Louis Lavelle  The Dilemma of Narcissus 
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Question 4:  Is Suffering a Gift–or Not?

“We spend so much time in our society improving ourselves, thinking positively, staying upbeat, that we seldom give ourselves the opportunity to give vent to something fundamental to us all:  Life isn’t fair…So you are angry at the universe for failing to protect you from this pain. You won’t be in bad company if this is how you feel.  The Christian mystic Teresa of Avila once prayed, ‘I do not wonder, God, that you have so few friends, from the way you treat them.’”

Carol Orsborn, The Art of Resilience

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Question 5:  How Can We Make Meaning Out of (or Despite) Our Suffering?

“Healing is not the same as curing, after all;  healing does not mean going back to the way things were before, but rather allowing what is now to move us closer to God…My guru once said to a visitor complaining about her suffering, ‘I love suffering. It brings me so close to God.’  In this same way, I’ve learned that the incidents associated with aging—including this stroke—can be used for our spiritual healing, provided we learn to see through new eyes.”

Ram Dass, Still Here: Embracing Aging, Changing, and Dying  

Unless a seed falls into the ground and dies, it remains just a seed, but if it dies much fruit will be produced.”
 –John 12:24
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Question 6:  If We Have No Other Option, How Can Suffering Serve as a Spiritual Path? 

“In all those dark moments, O God,
grant that I may understand that it is you
(provided only my faith is strong enough)
who are painfully parting the fibers of my being
in order to penetrate to the very marrow
of my substance and bear me away within yourself.”

Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, S.J. 
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For a free subscription to Fierce with Age: The Digest of Boomer Wisdom, Inspiration and Spirituality and to view this and all past issues of the Digest:   Click HERE.   

Contact Carol Orsborn,Ph.D. at Carol@fiercewithage.com.

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