Coming Apart at the Seams

Throughout the course of my career in healthcare as a chaplain and therapist, suffering has been a constant. After all, my job is to crawl into the emotional trenches with someone to help them make sense of their pain and struggles on the journey of life. However, I am noticing something today that I have never noticed before. Suffering is increasing. Now, I am not trying to label one person’s suffering as greater than that of another. What I mean is that collective suffering is increasing. I talk to people every day who are overwhelmed. They have financial problems, they have relational problems or carry a deep pain of loneliness related to being single. Substance abuse and alcohol consumption are on the rise. Presentations at mental health facilities are drastically increasing. The “cancel culture” puts people walking on eggshells for fear of saying or doing something inadvertantly offensive to another. For those in healthcare, the stressors abound as they must constantly compartmentalize their own struggles in order to help others with their own difficulties. Job expectations continue to rise and many are finding themselves bringing work home and in doing so they are fracturing their work life balance. The election is coming soon and that causes anxiety for everyone regardless of political affiliations. We are pulled in so many different directions by forces that often we cannot even see. The forces around us demand so much of us that at times we fear that our very existence may be in jeopardy. The stress piles up and accumulates. These forces tug and pull until we feel like we may begin to come apart at the seems. As a society, we have shuffled past emotional and physical suffering. We are now deep into societal existential suffering. At first read, most people won’t have much of an idea what that means. To simplify the idea, existential suffering is a type of suffering that is related to our very existence. Some common types of existential suffering revolve around life lacking meaning, loss or lack of connection to others, thoughts about death and dying, or feeling as though one has lost their sense of self. Most existential suffering leads to feelings of hopelessness. In many ways, existential suffering is worse than physical or emotional pain because it occurs in the core of our being. It challenges our identity and purpose and can leave us feeling hollow, depressed, and questioning. To some degree, physical and emotional pain can be masked, buried, or ignored, but not existential pain. Left unacknowledged, existential pain will tear a person apart. So, that being said, what do we do with this existential pain? Well, that is the million dollar question. It varies from person to person as to how an individual deals with it, and how they make meaning of it will differ as well. However, the first step for everyone is acknowledging it. Acknowledge the confusion, the feelings of hopelessness, and the emotional disorientation that existential suffering brings. Don’t try to bury it. Lean into it. Seek to understand it. One way to lean into it is to ask questions of it. What is my mind or body trying to tell me with these feelings? What does this struggle mean? Are there changes that I need to make in my life that will help me to rid myself of this existential angst? At it’s core, existential pain is not something to be avoided. Rather, it is an opportunity for personal growth. It is an opportunity to grow past the pain and to come to a better realization and understanding of who you are. It is not a pain that goes away quickly because it requires us to come to some sort of understanding or to find some meaning behind it and this takes time. Only in finding a meaning within the pain can we grow beyond it. No one else can give you the meaning, for that meaning is personal and ultimately must come from within. Existential pain has a purpose and has the ability to make us better people if we embrace the growth process. It requires change from us and the embracing of a new way of observing the world and of being. The struggle requires us to have the courage to not only face what is going on outside of us, but also to take the journey within into the unknown. Facing our existential pain is the process of repairing the seams that have been ripped by the constant demands of our fragmented existence. It is a process of letting go…a process of growth and change…of living a life that is moving forward. It is the process of becoming.-

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