“A Spiritual Inquiry: What is Suffering?” (By: Michele Babcock-Nice)

Suffering.  Just what is ‘suffering’ anyway?  What is the meaning of suffering, and why do people suffer?  Why do we experience suffering?  Dictionaries and encyclopedias generally define suffering as relating to pain, distress, and/or emotional pain; anxiety, stress, or aversion to something subjective; and a negative emotion or feeling, etc. 

The New World Encyclopedia defines suffering “as a negative basic feeling or emotion that involves a subjective character of unpleasantness, aversion, harm, or threat of harm.”  I would like to take this definitions and understanding of suffering a bit further, expanding on it to include many types of suffering, including emotional, psychological, physical, physiological, social, moral, and spiritual suffering.

There are so many different types of suffering, and I’m sure that most of us have experienced many – if not all – of them.  During Lent this year in 2012, I especially and personally contemplated the meaning of suffering.  This is a topic about which I have thought in the past, though I found deeper meaning in contemplating it during this past Lenten season.  I thought about Jesus, and all the suffering, pain, anguish, and turmoil he experienced prior to dying as our Savior.  I know that it was God’s will for this to occur, though I wondered why – as I have wondered why throughout my life – this was necessary to occur. 

One man – one holy, Godly man – is able to save us from our own sinfulness through the power of his suffering, death, and resurrection.  Was there no other way to achieve that?  Why was it necessary that Jesus experience such horrific and indescribable suffering in order to save us?  Why, often, does society – even now – turn against those who are good, honest, moral, and ethical.  Why, sometimes, is it that those who are self-serving, corrupt, unjust, unethical, and immoral make gains in their lives over those who are the opposite of them? 

These are not only religious questions, but also philosophical and humanistic questions worth contemplating.  Why is there suffering in the world?  Why does it occur?  Is it something that is necessary to occur as a result of our own humanity?

When I think about suffering, I think about things that I have experienced in my own life – or even that which family members have experienced – and then, when I hear about another’s suffering, what I have experienced sometimes seems to pale in comparison to theirs.  An adult daughter of a friend and colleague is struggling to heal against breast cancer.  This spring, a young girl in my child’s school was recently diagnosed with bone cancer, while another was diagnosed with diabetes.  The daughter of a close friend has been struggling against breast cancer.  Still others whom we know deal with great physical or emotional pain each day. 

Others suffer with physical pain, including a dog that was reported to have killed a family’s two-month-old baby in April 2012.  Still others also grapple with suffering that they may not be able to alleviate, of loved ones killed and who we are unable to revive and bring back.  An example of this that is still all too fresh in our minds is the suffering and death inflicted upon so many at the movie theater tragedy in Aurora, Colorado (http://www.cbsnews.com/2300-201_162-10013055-2.html?tag=page;next).  And, there are countless other examples of suffering, pain, and death that go on and on, such as the fighting in Syria and Northern Ireland, and even in some of our own neighborhoods, such as those in Chicago.

So much suffering.  Why is there suffering?  Why is it a “normal” condition of human life to have and experience suffering?  Is it expected?  Is it necessary?  Is it an unavoidable condition of human life and of all life on earth?  When people worry, are nervous, or are anxious, they experience some degree of suffering.  When people are hungry, homeless, or in need, they are suffering.  When anyone experiences any type of abuse – emotional, physical, sexual, even spiritual – they are suffering.  How can we understand, alleviate, and/or overcome pain and suffering?

If someone has experienced or witnessed a traumatic situation, such as a tragic death of a family member, loss of their home due to a natural disaster, or was involved in a terrible vehicle accident, they have experienced suffering.  There are also those who self-impose suffering onto themselves, inflicting injury on themselves, drinking, doing drugs, being promiscuous, or doing illegal actions – they are suffering.  Therefore, there exist the questions about why people hurt themselves. 

Personally, I feel sorrow and sympathy for those who are suffering, as well as for those who have some type of need within themselves to create or cause suffering on or toward others.  People who are bullies, those who are abusive, those who commit crimes, those who are hateful, those who have no conscience or sense of any wrong-doing when they take life-altering actions against others – I feel sorry for them and I pray for them.  Indeed, I sometimes also feel anger, spite, judgment, and a lack of understanding for their actions, though I also pray for them. 

For these people I just described, I believe they are those who need the most prayers.  They may be those for whom society and the world let down, didn’t help, and turned away from, forcing them to fend for themselves, to survive in whatever ways possible, even if those ways were criminal.  I feel sorry for them, and I may find it in my heart to be forgiving, but I believe it is important not to forget and not to allow oneself to be open to being hurt and/or injured by them in some way again. 

Through all of this, we still come back to the age-old questions of what is suffering and why do people suffer?  How can we alleviate and/or eliminate pain and suffering?  These are questions that I am unable to answer, and continue to contemplate.  Perhaps you can share your own insights.

References

New World Encyclopedia.  April 21, 2012.  http://www.newworldencyclopedia.org/entry/Suffering.

“The Aurora Shooting Victims.”  CBS News.  September 15, 2012.  http://www.cbsnews.com/2300-201_162-10013055-2.html?tag=page;next.

Book Review of “Conscious Contact: The Twelve Steps as Prayer” (Dr. Mic Hunter); Review and Personal Reflections by: Michele Babcock-Nice

Book Review of:

Conscious Contact: The Twelve Steps as Prayer (Dr. Mic Hunter)

Book Review and Personal Reflections by: Michele Babcock-Nice

In his new book, Conscious Contact: The Twelve Steps as Prayer, Dr. Mic Hunter reveals to readers an inspirational spiritual awakening in his guidance for utilizing the Twelve Steps of Alcoholics Anonymous in daily prayers for building strength of character, spiritual development, and resistance to vices present in our lives.  Dr. Hunter’s nearly thirty-five years of working with those who have addictions provides both professional and personal meaning, significance, and experience to the writings he offers in his book. 

Dr. Hunter’s insights and expansion on the Twelve Steps as prayers offer everyone – not only those who may be struggling and/or recovering from addictions – to mentally, spiritually, emotionally, and physically benefit from being both “in touch” and honest with themselves, others, and God.  Though I have personally not been afflicted with addictions to alcohol or drugs, I recognize that I am fallible due to my mere existence and humanity; and therefore, Dr. Hunter’s writing has personal and spiritual meaning for me in a manner that guides and leads me into a closer and more intimate relationship with God, myself, and others.

Dr. Hunter first begins his book by listing Alcoholics’ Anonymous’ Twelve Steps, as well as an adapted version of the Steps.  The Steps provide the basis and foundation for his book, leading the reader to focus on one’s own needs, desires, defects, and spirituality.  Dr. Hunter’s book is directly meant for those who are truly commited to making positive change in their lives, and can be utilized for a wide variety of reasons.

Throughout the next several chapters and versions of prayers in his book, Dr. Hunter writes insightfully and provides the reader much guidance and examples in using models and examples of prayers, as well as in developing and shaping them for one’s own personal use.  Dr. Hunter continually calls the reader to contemplate and recognize certain overall beliefs that we may hold about ourselves, as well as the fact that practicing and performing rituals – such as attending church, for example – may become insignificant, ineffective, or boring without the addition to them of things that have personal meaning – such as prayers that directly reflect our own personal ideas, requests, or needs. 

This is definitely as aspect of religion to which I can relate, particularly since I regularly attend church and participate in the same rituals week after week, month after month, and year after year.  Of course, there is nothing wrong with those rituals and I maintain a respect and appreciation for them, however, after forty years, they have, indeed, lost their impact on me to a great extent. 

In any absence of the opportunities to more personally and intimately participate in my church worship celebrations, the religious rituals designed to give thanks to the Creator have become empty and hollow.  As a result, I have personally recognized my robotic, obligatory, and expected responses and actions to them.  These feelings and actions, have therefore caused me to seek increased participation in my church services and activities, in which I regularly read, serve Eucharist, sing, or participate in other ways, such as in the instruction of children.

Praying Holy Child Figurine

Importantly, Dr. Hunters calls the reader to engage in prayers that will assist him or her in becoming a better person and in being victorious over his or her addictions.  Dr. Hunter also correctly observes that, while people do pray, they may not often take the time to listen to and perform the will for them of the Creator.  I was also importantly reminded of that while reading Dr. Hunter’s book. 

In developing one’s prayers, Dr. Hunter recommends his method of asking and answering several questions that he developed.  The questions include:”Is the focus on my behavior?; Is it simple?; Is it something I can do now or soon?; Does it align with my principles?; Would I be comfortable telling others?; [and] Do I have a sense of peace when I think about it?” (p.33).Dr. Hunter then goes into more detail about his questions by assisting the reader with formulating answers to the questions, as well as developing them into prayers. 

Within the Twelve Steps is information intended for people to personally apply to themselves regarding recognizing the existence of the Higher Power; asking for God to remove their faults; being honest about themselves, their character, and their flaws; being open to the care and guidance of others; asking forgiveness for those whom they may have harmed in some way; continually taking a personal inventory of our character and actions; improving our spiritual connection with God; and reaching a spiritual awakening through the practice of the Steps.  

Dr. Hunter shares examples of formulated prayers, both in general and those more personally-related, that include the aims and goals of each of the Twelve Steps.  Thus, the reader is both provided with the groundwork for using the prayers, given general models to begin practicing, and later, encouraged to more personally and intimately relate the prayers to his or her own needs and reflections. 

Of significance and addressed in his book, Dr. Hunter recognizes that we, as people, are human and have fallibilities.  He also recognizes that those strengths and weaknesses make us who we are.  In those individuals who are recovering addicts, Dr. Hunter addresses how he believes people should recognize their weakness and continue onward toward recovery should they experience a relapse.  It is important, therefore, for people to recognize that there is fallibility in our humanity – that’s what makes us human.  Not to recognize it is a danger, as is being too harsh or critical on ourselves for our mistakes, faults, and errors.  

To quote Dr. Hunter regarding relapse in his book, he states:”I have always thought there ought to be a word to describe a relapse that leads to improved recovery.  A word that indicates something valuable has been learned that makes future relapse less likely.  However, far too many people don’t learn from their relapse; either they don’t take the slip seriously and continue on as they had before, changing nothing, somehow expecting that another relapse won’t happen, or they take it far too seriously and are so hard on themselves for having relapsed that their guilt and shame drives them into a binge” (p. 81). 

Of further importance throughout the next two pages of his book, Dr. Hunter describes the manner by which people may grow and develop in their humanity, character, and spirituality, becoming better and more compassionate individuals.  He writes that through our weakness, grief, injury, and/or pain, we have opportunities to grow into people who are stronger and more caring and compassionate toward ourselves and others.  Dr. Hunter also identifies within those pages the needs that we have of God, as well as the hopes, feelings, and actions that we offer to God.  

As an individual who has taken inventory of my own character flaws and about what I would like to change and improve, pages 82-83 of Dr. Hunter’s book are those that most “spoke” to me, personally.  Throughout our lives, everyone experiences good, mediocre, bad, and even tragic situations.  Each of those situations is an opportunity for us to increase our spirituality, become better people, reach out to God and others for guidance and assistance, provide leadership and confidence, and be open to God’s will in our lives.  

In my own life, Dr. Hunter’s book pertains directly to me because I can relate and utilize his writings and developed prayers toward my own faults, including the desire for too much materialism, too little healthy eating and exercise, wanting my own way, being too independent, not being open enough to or trusting of others (but this is also exercised with caution), negative thinking and worrying, having unrealistic expectations, and other flaws.  Dr. Hunter’s book, Conscious Contact: The Twelve Steps as Prayer, thus, has personal and spiritual meaning to me because I can insert my own fallibilities, needs, and shortcomings into the prayers provided.  

Dr. Hunter’s book has given me a much-needed spiritual jolt in my general daily prayers, previous to which I had often given up due to their lack of meaning and eventual belief that little or no good was accomplished from them.  Though I do believe that prayer is helpful, over the years, it had just lost so much personal significance for me, causing me to give up hope that such meaning would ever be re-introduced.  

Conscious Contact: The Twelve Steps as Prayer is another of Dr. Hunter’s books that I will keep closely at hand, referring to it regularly in the redevelopment and enhancement of my own spiritual life and personal daily prayers.  Thus again, Dr. Hunter’s book has provided me with needed rejuvenation and revitalization in my own faith, prayers, and spiritual life.  More importantly for me, by sharing about his own humanity, Dr. Hunter has again renewed my faith in others, showing me that there are those in our world who truly care about the needs, feelings, and lives of others. 

Whether you are a person who is recovering from an addiction, or an individual who is seeking to re-energize your spirituality, Conscious Contact: The Twelve Steps as Prayer is another of Dr. Hunter’s must-reads!  Dr. Hunter has proven, yet again, that truly being “in-touch” with one’s inner self is the key to being in conscious contact with God, themself, and others.   

Source 

Hunter, M. (2012).  Conscious Contact: The Twelve Steps as Prayer.  Charleston, South Carolina: Mic Hunter.