Are there different types of suffering? Is all suffering equal? I first listened to an individual speak on this topic a year ago, but it is a topic that has stayed in the forefront of my mind ever since. In speaking of my own experiences, growing up I was always aware there was suffering that could occur as a result of circumstances beyond one’s control or suffering being perpetrated on someone against their will such as rape, child abuse, theft, etc., but I had always been more familiar with the suffering that was caused by my own poor decision making and the consequences of those poor decisions. I am the youngest of eight children and was at times teased, picked on, and ignored by my older siblings; however, I saw this as my lot in life by the mere fact that I was born last in a long list of siblings. I never really understood this as also being a form of suffering, but the truth is it was suffering, emotional suffering, which most likely contributed to my poor decision making at times as a result of seeing myself in a negative light. Don’t get me wrong, I was not the only one in my family who was victim to this kind of attack, we all were victims in our own way due to the pecking order that was in place, as most members of a big family are familiar with. So yes, I believe now there are different types of suffering including suffering brought on us by the thought, intent, and will of others and the suffering brought on us by our own poor decision making. As I once heard a quantum physicist state, “A lot of poor decisions made by individuals are being labeled as a mental illness, when instead they should be instructed to make better choices.”
So what about all suffering being equal? If there can be different types of suffering, then I surmise that all suffering is not equal. Some suffering puts us through the refiner’s fire and we emerge a new, more glorified version of ourselves because it has taught us an important lesson we would have not been able to learn had we not suffered. This type of suffering gives us new eyes to see and new ears to hear, it removes the veil of blindness from our eyes and the cobwebs from our ears. We have been knocked off our pedestals and humbled enough to see the truth of ourselves and the world around us; we have emerged with a new, more accurate and truthful perspective. So how do we go through this refiner’s fire? I deem a lot of it has to do with how we choose to respond to the suffering. This is where are freedom and strength lies. Many times we may not have a choice in what we have lived through or what was done to us in the past, but we always have a choice in how we will respond today. This freedom to choose today in how we will respond is called free will. This free will is what allowed other people to have hurt has when we were children and what allows us to make poor choices now and in the past, but it is also what allows us to make different choices today in how we will respond to past hurts done by us or to us. We can choose to forgive others and forgive ourselves. If you think about it, everything in life really is a choice. Life is the sum total of all the choices that were made for us or by us up to this moment. I believe that changing the way we look at suffering is what puts us through the refiner’s fire and we are made stronger and more able to withstand the raging fire that we have faced or will all face again either now or in the future.