Making Sense of Suffering and What I’ve Learned Lately

by Belinda Munoz on April 4, 2011


Always up for a chance to lessen my vast ignorance, I attend a lot of events that either feature folks who are much more knowledgeable than I or explore subject matters far more systematically than my own mind could probe on its own. It truly is a wondrous thing what a mind and heart can access, synthesize or ingest if they remain open. And every now and then, some of the edification may even stick.

In addition to those which I personally go through on a regular basis, my day job exposes me to a wide range of domestic and foreign suffering. Right. Others may find it hard to believe that I love my job and that I’m really a happy person overall, but that’s another matter. It’s safe to say that we all suffer on one level or another. It’s a universal common ground we have with others that for some reason, civilized and proper, I’m sure, we just don’t share or go into as readily as we do other things of a less downer nature.

A few pieces of wisdom have stuck that may not have been the speaker’s intended message but nonetheless spoke to me in the context of suffering:

Lack of a Sense of History

This woman recently spoke about our lack of a sense of history which then fails to ground us in our thoughts and actions. Though she was speaking in reference to the current state of this movement, her insight applies to personal suffering. When we’re experiencing profound suffering, our emotions flare at full capacity and understandably so. And when we’re consumed with suffering, we lose sight of our personal strengths and what we’ve been able to get through in our personal history. We forget what our common sense knows: that suffering is part of the deal and no amount of bargaining could lessen the sting, the bite, the blow of the overall suck factor.

To lose a loved one causes an emotional upheaval of the highest degree. Not having the means to financially raise a family, or any amount of food insecurity (a new term I stumbled upon here), is a kind of suffering that erodes confidence in an ideology, a system, the self. We know that historically, those who grieve, in time, heal from the loss. And yet the many number of ways we suffer can make us lose our ability to step back, re-group and call upon our oft-hidden-yet-always-there capacity for resilience and recovery.


This woman spoke about the act of re-committing. We know things get hard. We know our support system breaks down every once in a while. If we are to want to face each day with dignity, if we desire to live life as fully as we are capable of, if we are to let that light within shine, then we must respond to the insistent call of having to commit as many times as it takes to make our painfully limited time count. We re-commit to our sense of purpose. And if purpose evades us, we re-commit to our search for meaning.  And if our search for meaning runs into a brick wall, we re-commit to finding our way around or over it.

We Shape Our Stories

A panel of young feminists, most if not all of whom were still in their 20s, told their stories of what led them to media and politics, all of which were very moving. Their stories varied but one thing they had in common was that each of them understood that they had the power to shape their stories in ways that either caused them to sink deeper into their suffering or root them away from it.  These women shaped their stories of suffering and turned them into a mere part rather than the defining moment of a narrative that continues to fuel their existence.

Suffering, I suppose, is like a scary, solo walk on what feels like a miles and miles long rickety bridge. One could get paralyzed with fear, freeze, fall off and sink to the bottom of it.

Or one could cross it. Though often we inch along the bridge of suffering alone, there’s always a chance that others have crossed a similar one. Those who have made it to the other side could offer support, kind words, understanding, or just the mere knowledge that others have survived its perils. And though these kinds of bridges rarely have handrails, who knows whose hands would appear offering relief if we ask for help. Who knows what blessing would grace us if we dare to receive it.


The soul would have no rainbow had the eyes no tears. ~John Vance Cheney


Image by quasarsglow

{ 8 comments… read them below or add one }

1 TheKitchenWitch April 4, 2011 at 5:47 am

Re-purpose. You know, I think I need to do that. What a good reminder for me. Thanks for this bit of wisdom on a Monday.


2 meg April 4, 2011 at 7:29 am

“Suffering, I suppose, is like a scary, solo walk on what feels like a miles and miles long rickety bridge.”

Very apt. I love the idea of re-committing. Perfect read for the first Monday of a new month. Thank you.


3 ayala April 4, 2011 at 7:39 am

I love this post and I love the words that suffering is like walking solo miles and miles on a rickety bridge-it feels that way to me…..beautiful,Belinda.


4 BigLittleWolf April 4, 2011 at 9:06 am

A wonderful, wise, and thoughtful post, Belinda.


5 Mama Zen April 4, 2011 at 10:26 am

“Food insecurity.” Last night, I was trying to imagine what it must be like knowing that your child is hungry. How do you bear it? In whatever way you must to get through, I guess.


6 Talon April 4, 2011 at 12:06 pm

As connected as the world has become, it feels more disconnected on so many levels more and more each day.


7 Sara Healy April 5, 2011 at 5:05 pm

Belinda — I somehow feel this one is a deeper post for you.I can’t explain exactly what I mean, but it feels like you’re questioning something or seeking answers for yourself in what happens to people who suffer greatly in their lives. It is a very thoughtful post:~)

The end of this post reminds me of a saying my mom used to tell me. In life, there will always be people walking ahead of you and there will always be people walking behind you. All you have to do to walk together is take the hand offered by the person ahead of you and to offer your hand to person walking behind you.


8 Count Sneaky May 1, 2011 at 7:39 am

Belinda, this post is important. There is no rationale, no explanation and no way to understand suffering, and I say this with 75 years of experience in this life. One can only accept and move on. Cross the bridges as well as you can…but cross them, whether it be your suffering or that of others close to you. We have no real understanding of history or the unimaginable pain and suffering it took to get to this point. We can end a lot of pain and suffering and we can cause, unwittingly or purposefully, more pain or we can ease the pain of others where possible. We cannot erase suffering or understand it, perhaps, but kindness is a great healing balm. My best.


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