Is Spirituality Connected to Pain and Suffering for You?

Walking with Max we passed a house decorated with hundreds of lights, candy canes and Charlie Brown Characters with huge stacks of gifts.  On the gate was a tiny sign that read “Happy Birthday Jesus”.

How and what, I wondered, did this family celebrate.  Many of my clients experience more pain, much suffering, emotional and physical, during the holidays than almost any other time of year.

The spiritual is lost in the longing for what they perceive is missing in their lives – that elusive dream or fantasy of how it should be.

I am NOT minimizing the loss experienced, remembering those who have died or left.  I have experienced the emotional “anniversary” “pain” of the death of loved ones. I am referring to the yearning for the picture in our mind of how we think it should be and the belief that “everyone else” is having that “Hallmark experience”.

Then I read a timely post from Carol D. Marsh at Chronic Pain and Spirituality Her blog is about spirituality, not religion.  As she says, “. . .pain and suffering are universal and so I take a universal approach”.  

I also believe that physical and emotional are so interrelated that whatever the origin of the pain, of the suffering Carol’s post applies.

Here’s an excerpt.   Tell me what YOU think:

“. . .  It’s a simple as this: when I am in pain, I do not care for theological arguments or doctrinal matters, I care about relieving, managing and living with the pain.
“. . . Here is how I see it: pain is the migraine – stabbing, pounding – and is physical; suffering is the contortions – worry, fear, despair – and is mental.
I have little or no control over migraine pain (behind that statement, there is a long saga of therapies tried, drugs taken, and alternative medicine explored), and that can lead to a sense of helplessness that is truly depressing. So there is something hopeful, something liberating in the knowledge that there is one area in which I have control: how I relate to the pain, or, how my mind thinks about it.
It’s the ancient Buddhist saying, pain is inevitable, suffering is optional. For those of us with chronic pain, the physical discomfort is inevitable. We are trying everything we can to alleviate it, and until something works for us, the hopeful news is we do not have to resign ourselves to being victims of it.
It is in our ability to choose to leave the egoic mind and turn toward Being that we become most fully and wonderfully human. Here we find what Jesus called, “the peace that passes all understanding.” (Philippians 4:7) And here is where I have found my most effective and healing pain management practice, in a calm of body and tranquility of mind that somehow miraculously reduces in significance the pain of my body, while eliminating the suffering of my mind.
” . . . Relieving the mind of thinking and emoting is about connecting to one’s essential Being. This is the journey to Wholeness that must take into account and include our body with its pain and our mind with its suffering. Perhaps that is the hidden blessing in chronic pain: it makes impossible the human tendency to split body and mind, thereby opening the door to our spirituality.”   Carol D. Marsh 

To read Carol’s post in it’s entirety click here: 

Chronic Pain and Spirituality 

“Men who suffer not, attain no perfection. The plant most pruned by the gardeners is that one which, when the summer comes, will have the most beautiful blossoms and the most abundant fruit…”
(Abdu’l-Bahá, Paris Talks, p. 50)

7 comments on “Is Spirituality Connected to Pain and Suffering for You?

  1. my comment, as usual, as getting too long and the comment box jumped. It should read I had their diaries and letters, and published works (their private and public personae). I believed that they believed. I admired their strength of will and determination; that didn’t/dosen’t mean I adhere to their religion. That’s what people couldn’t see: that by giving these women a voice, I was allowing them to “speak.” I didn’t mean I was pushing a belief system, supporting the missionary movement, nor discounting the importance that religion played in the lives of women in the late 19th, early 20th centuries. Just that they believed.
    If we could look at spirituality in that light; that we believe in “whatever,” then we can move towards what Carol D. Marsh writes about. Sorry for the long comment. When I’ve been away from the cyberverse, it all spills out. Judy, please feel free to moderate out these two comments.


    • Phylor,
      I love that you gave these women a voice, If other’s still couldn’t hear it, I’m sorry.
      I’d love to read it.

      Your family sounds like mine, they never went to church, and never seemed to have much of faith of any kind, but when I started questioning or coming up with ideas that didn’t fit with what they thought I should. I was suddenly sent to church every week with the neighbor.

      I hadn’t thought about that in years.


  2. Religion and spirituality get so intertwined sometimes that people can’t see one without the other. While I don’t adhere to an organized religion right now, it doesn’t mean I don’t have spirituality, believe in good and evil, pray for others, or talk to god.
    I grew up in a household that didn’t involve religion — I remember very clearly the day as a young child, I told my parents that I had it all figured out — that God had married Mother Nature and Jesus was their son. Next thing you know, I was enrolled in Sunday school (my parents didn’t go to church).
    The year I lived with my grandmother, I went to church every sunday wearing a hat and white gloves. The church was an old country church, and I spent the sermons looking at the woren pews, the simple stained glass, what other people wore, mouthing the hyms (I never had a singing voice). I can’t remember a single sermon!

    I wrote my masters and phd on religious women and their belief that they had been called by God to become missionaries. That drove people crazy: the religious people thought I was too secular, and the secular people thought I was too religious. And, all I was doing was giving these women (who I had letters and diares of) a voice. I believed they believed


  3. Somehow I have always believed in this.. pain is inevitable and suffering is optional.. I remember on the Angiography Table I was talking poetry to some of the doctors surrounding me while thanking them to have given me the opportunity to have a look at my own innerspace… you know it helps, Judy, and perhpas healing is faster.. God has his ways… I enjoyed reading this post… thanks!!

    My new post:


  4. For me, I feel the pain and discomfort I experience provides lessons for me to learn from … the presence of the pain, grief, hurt or loss has guided me to look for ways to understand … which in turn has provided with the opportunity or awakening to delve within thus connecting my inner self with the Divine in order to make sense of it all … When it gets too heavy, I lighten my spirit by saying — “OK, give me a hint! … I obviously have not learned yet, because I am ready to move forward with other things” …

    Bottom line, it provides me with much to ponder!

    Great post, Judy!


  5. I like this.
    But one thing stuck out that struck me odd.
    “It’s the ancient Buddhist saying, pain is inevitable, suffering is optional.”
    This isn’t quite right. The First of the Four Nobel Truths is:
    1.Life is Suffering

    that’s not as bad as it sounds.

    But I’m not a good one to explain Buddhism. When I first read that suffering is a way of life…I kind of freaked, but we can reduce this suffering…and as the 3rd noble truth says, cessation of suffering is possible.

    I did like the rest of what was said, and believe it is a great credence to follow.

    As you know, I’m not religious, not really. But I think I am spiritual. I think of myself more as a Unitarian Universalist….they teach tolerance. Of all religions, races…ect. I have to strive for that too. I have a hard time with people who want to push their religions on me…I need to be more tolerant.
    But that’s a different subject. : )

    On this. I have found…and I’m sure I’ve mentioned, the book How To Be Sick, by Toni Bernhard very helpful. It is Buddhist inspired. And has made me feel much more spiritual again.



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