Choosing to Suffer

The first Friday of February was freezing!  The snow came quickly this morning and pushed back all my plans for the day.  The little black dog and I stayed inside and kept ourselves busy; she was busy sleeping (she’s an old girl), and I took up suffering.

Who volunteers to suffer?  Well, apparently me when I started exercising again after a very, very long hiatus.  I was doing a cycling program with an online/virtual coach, and she was very encouraging and saying all these motivational things…but I can’t remember most of the things she said since I was too distracted by the burning pain in my entire body and struggling to breathe.  What I remember most was her saying: “thank you for choosing to suffer, for challenging yourself.  Your suffering will lead to strength.”

It reminded me of what Viktor E. Frankl said about suffering in his book Man’s Search for Meaning.  Viktor Frankl was an Austrian existential psychiatrist and a Holocaust survivor, who developed the theory of Logotherapy. The basic principles of Logotherapy are:

  • Life has meaning under all circumstances, even the most miserable ones.
  • Our main motivation for living is our will to find meaning in life.
  • We have freedom to find meaning in what we do, and what we experience, or at least in the stand we take when faced with a situation of unchangeable suffering.

He says a number of things about suffering, but below are a few that springs to mind.

“Dostoevski said once, “There is only one thing I dread: not to be worthy of my sufferings.” These words frequently came to my mind after I became acquainted with those martyrs whose behavior in camp, whose suffering and death, bore witness to the fact that the last inner freedom cannot be lost. It can be said that they were worthy of their sufferings; the way they bore their suffering was a genuine inner achievement. It is this spiritual freedom—which cannot be taken away—that makes life meaningful and purposeful.”

“We must never forget that we may also find meaning in life even when confronted with a hopeless situation, when facing a fate that cannot be changed. For what then matters is to bear witness to the uniquely human potential at its best, which is to transform a personal tragedy into a triumph, to turn one’s predicament into a human achievement. When we are no longer able to change a situation—just think of an incurable disease such as inoperable cancer—we are challenged to change ourselves.”

“Forces beyond your control can take away everything you possess except one thing, your freedom to choose how you will respond to the situation. You cannot control what happens to you in life, but you can always control what you will feel and do about what happens to you.”

Our “last inner freedom” is choosing our attitude and response to our suffering.

So, as I’m suffering through the burning pain of exercising, I can only blame myself for wanting a positive change in my life.

No pain, no gain! Suffering equals strength!  Bootcamp series, here I come (no, not really…maybe in a month or two).





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