11. Finding Meaning in Pain and Suffering
Cutler begins by affirming the importance of finding meaning in suffering,
and reviews the ways in which various religious traditions find such meaning:
karma, God's plan, growth in response to suffering, and so forth. The Dalai
Lama describes the Buddhist visualization practice of Tong-Len "in
which one visualizes taking on another's pain and suffering, and in turn
giving them all of your resources, good health, fortune, and so on. ...
So, in doing this practice, when you undergo illness, pain, or suffering,
you can use that as an opportunity by thinking, 'May my suffering be a
substitute for the suffering of all other suffering beings.' ... So you
use your suffering as an opportunity for the practice of taking others'
suffering upon yourself." [pages 203-204] There is a similar Catholic
meditation in which one imagines one's suffering lessening the suffering
of Jesus on the cross. Tong-Len is described in more detail at the
end of the chapter.
"When you are aware of your pain and suffering, it helps you develop
your capacity for empathy, the capacity that allows you to relate to other
people's feelings and suffering. This enhances your capacity for compassion
towards others. So as an aid in helping us connect with others, it can
be seen as having value." [page 206]
Cutler summarizes some Western research on the value of pain. "After
a lifetime of working with patients suffering from pain and those suffering
from lack of pain, Dr. Brand gradually came to view pain not as the universal
enemy as seen in the West, but as a remarkable, elegant, and sophisticated
biological system that warns us of damage to our body and thus protects
us." [pages 207-208] "In developing an approach to dealing with pain, we
can of course work at the lower levels of pain perception, using the tools
of modern medicine such as medication and other procedures, but we can
also work at the higher levels by modifying our outlook and attitude."