28 September 2010

The Art of Patient Suffering

If you keep in mind the Latin root for the word patient - "pati", to suffer - then the title of this post is redundant, as in The Art of Suffering Suffering.  In English, there are a few different definitions of the verb, "to suffer", the difference being if it is transitive (takes a direct object) or intransitive.

The definitions are maddeningly similar (at least when one is trying to sort them out while suffering a migraine):

* As a verb without the direct object, to suffer means "to undergo or feel pain or distress, to undergo or sustain injury or loss."   As in, today I am still suffering.

* As a verb with the direct object, to suffer means "to undergo, be subjected to or endure pain, distress, injury, loss or anything unpleasant."  As in, today I am suffering a migraine.
With a direct object - migraine - I name the source of the suffering.  Without the direct object, I am simply suffering.

OK, this is not just an academic exercise, and I happen to love parsing words and etymology like this, although I realize not everyone else does.  But here is the richness I can mine from this exploration of the verb, "to suffer."

If I focus on the direct object - migraine - and stay there, then my suffering is focused, one-dimensional, self-perpetuating.    I suffer from migraines.  That is simply a fact, and nowhere else to go with it, so it is easy to get stuck there.  And being stuck there means the pity pot, it means being in victim mode. 

But when I allow the intransitive form of the verb, suffering loosens up and patience can enter in.  It is paying attention to and choosing the quality of the suffering that redeems the whole experience for me, and it is the intransitive verb that opens up and allows this redemption.  Here is where the art of patient suffering, or the art of suffering suffering, is meaningful for me.  Grammatically speaking, the adverb that follows the intransitive verb is important, and it is what I get to choose: I suffer patiently.

I want to choose that adverb: patiently, as opposed to impatiently; peacefully, as opposed to angrily.  Choosing not only changes my perspective on the pain, it gives me the only sense of having some power with something that otherwise is completely out of my control.  I don't choose the migraines, but I do choose the manner in which I will suffer them.

This is a choice made regularly, if not daily.  Each migraine presents its own opportunity to either sink into victim mode or rise to patient endurance.  It's odd, but the other thing about patient endurance vs. victim mode is that, although the former sounds passive, it is actually energized in a quiet way, and a good place from which to contemplate creative ways of dealing with the pain.  It is the latter - victim mode - that paralyzes me, keeping me from seeking relief in the myriad of forms (medical, spiritual, emotional) in which it may be available to me.

Naturally, choosing patience has spiritual benefits as well, which will be the subject of my next post.

I would love to hear from you.  Please use the comment box, below, or email me at carold.marsh@gmail.com.  Thank you.

1 comment:

  1. Hi Carol - Just read your comment on my pain post over on Christianity Today. Thanks for that. Your perspective as someone who both lives with chronic pain and has extensive experience with addicted folk was very helpful.