The Gift of Suffering

Photo by  Ryan Cheng  on  Unsplash

Photo by Ryan Cheng on Unsplash

On a scorching day I’ll step out into the sunlight and in seconds begin to sweat. It doesn’t take long for my body to heat up and for my skin to begin to burn. I can only bare the burden for a short while before I need to find relief in the shade of a nearby tree. In the intensity of my struggle, the tree provides welcome relief all while suffering in the sun without saying a word.

Like a tree, may you find your strength to silently suffer along side others in their misery.

Habit as a Gravitational Force

American philosopher, psychologist, and physician William James is considered one of the most influential people on American psychology. In 1887, he published Habit, which is a fascinating historical perspective on the science of habits. Among his many observations, there was one that stood out to me that undoubtedly has its impact on social injustices and interpersonal relationships.

If the period between twenty and thirty is the critical one in the formation of intellectual and professional habits, the period below twenty is more important still for the fixing of personal habits, properly so called, such as vocalization and pronunciation, gesture, motion, and address. Hardly ever is a language learned after twenty spoken without a foreign accent; hardly ever can a youth transferred to the society of his betters unlearn the nasality and other vices of speech bred in him by the associations of his growing years. Hardly ever, indeed, no matter how much money there be in his pocket, can he even learn to dress like a gentleman-born. The merchants offer their wares as eagerly to him as to the veriest swell, 'but he simply cannot buy the right things. An invisible law, as strong as gravitation, keeps him within his orbit, arrayed this year as he was the last; and how his better-bred acquaintances contrive to get the things they wear will be for him a mystery till his dying day.

Today's science has proven that our brains yearn for habits as a means to conserve cognitive energy. From the things we do to the things we believe, our minds create habits and beliefs that cannot easily be untaught. In fact, most psychologists will say that habits cannot be unlearned, but only replaced.

To see changes in social injustices around the world or with existing interpersonal relationships, a study on the habitual thoughts and actions of all parties may be key to finding a solution. As James says, habits are a gravitational force that keep us within our own orbit. To escape such forces usually requires proper motivation, ability, and patience through well planned actions.

May you learn to see the same people each day, newly.

Aspire to Love

Holocaust survivor, Viktor Frankl, reflects on his Auschwitz experiences during WWII in his book Man's Search for Meaning. His reflections are enlightening.

"And as we stumbled on for miles, slipping on icy spots, supporting each other time and again, dragging one another up and onward, nothing was said, but we both knew: each of us was thinking of his wife. Occasionally I looked at the sky, where the stars were fading and the pink light of the morning was beginning to spread behind a dark bank of clouds. But my mind clung to my wife's image, imagining it with an uncanny acuteness. I heard her answering me, saw her smile, her frank and encouraging look. Real or not, her look was then more luminous than the sun which was beginning to rise.

A thought transfixed me: for the first time in my life I saw the truth as it is set into song by so many poets, proclaimed as the final wisdom by so many thinkers. The truth-that love is the ultimate and the highest goal to which man can aspire. Then I grasped the meaning of the greatest secret that human poetry and human thought and belief have to impart: The salvation of man is through love and in love. I understood how a man who has nothing left in this world still may know bliss, be it only for a brief moment, in the contemplation of his beloved. In a position of utter desolation, when man cannot express himself in positive action, when his only achievement may consist in enduring his sufferings in the right way -an honorable way-in such a position man can, through loving contemplation of the image he carries of his beloved, achieve fulfillment. For the first time in my life I was able to understand the meaning of the words, "The angels are lost in perpetual contemplation of an infinite glory."

May marriages everywhere teach us to love in the same way we have been loved by the one whose image we all bear.

Attitude is a Choice

From his Auschwitz experience, Holocaust survivor Viktor Frankl shares a personal encounter about attitude in his book, Man's Search for Meaning.

"We who lived in concentration camps can remember the men who walked through the huts comforting others, giving away their last piece of bread. They may have been few in number, but they offer sufficient proof that everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms –to choose one's attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one's own way."

May you overcome moments such as loss, jealousy, and injustice. May your attitude be a cherished memory in place of suffering.