Suffering, Our Teacher

“Your enemy is your best teacher”. These are words from the wise, respected and revered teacher, the Dalai Lama. What on earth could he possibly have meant with this seemingly contradictory statement? In life we are sometimes hit by a first arrow, which may come in the form of trauma, illness or grief. Often we stick a second arrow into the already throbbing injury by clinging to the pain and layering mental and emotional anguish on top of the actual wound. Another approach to trauma could be to find a way of weaving our suffering into the tapestry of our lives. We need to make room for it to fit in. Trying to shut it out just means shutting ourselves out. Suffering often can set us on a path to find meaning. Suffering ceases to be suffering at the moment it finds a meaning. “Those who have a ‘why’ to live can bear with almost any ‘how’”.- Viktor Frankl. This past summer, I had a prolonged bout of unexplained abdominal pain that was debilitating and confusing. There seemed to be no answers to what was wrong with me. I suffered physically and became worn down emotionally from the toll of this mysterious illness. One of my medical therapists, in a calm and matter of fact manner, informed me that one of the most important factors in my healing was just to give it time. To be quite honest, I was in no frame of mind to hear those words. I wanted answers, and I wanted them now! How could I make this “enemy” my teacher? To help manage my symptoms, my doctor placed me on a restrictive diet. After the initial perplexity of this seemingly random diet, I found myself eating a more healthy diet than I ever had in the past. Once I learned what foods were on the permitted list, I developed creative ways to cook and eat a nutritious and balanced diet. I had found the “teacher”. We don’t necessarily need suffering to find our calling, but it happens to be where we often discover it. Quite possibly, that is what the Dalai Lama meant with his mysterious statement.


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