Defining Definitions – To suffer

definition of suffering

On New Year’s Day I was working out in the gym. Rocking along to some 80’s music when out of nowhere, Stevie Wonder’s smooth music slid into my ears:

“When we believe in things we don’t understand, we suffer.”

Truer words were never spoken.

I thought about the previous year and all the complexity held within the politics, fires, protests, movements, lies, deceit, and misunderstandings we were collectively and individually a part of. The suffering all this created became very clear.

In a muddy kind of way.

So like usual, it started me thinking, over thinking and ruminating…

What does suffering mean? Do I suffer like everyone else? Is suffering different for each of us?

What exactly does it mean to suffer?

Merriam Webster’s Dictionary defines suffering as:

1: the state or experience of one that suffers


That’s very simplistic and doesn’t really clear things up. My dog could have written that and that definition leaves a lot of unanswered questions. Is it clear for you?

Buddhists believe we all suffer, and the cause of this mental suffering is unmet desires from trying to hold on to fleeting pleasure, and ignorance around our own mortality.

But understanding we all suffer and knowing what suffering actually FEELS like aren’t the same thing.

What does suffering feel like? Is it the same for all of us?

Is suffering physical, mental, or both?

When someone suffers at the hands of someone else who suffers the most?

Does the one perpetrating the suffering know what they are doing? Is making someone else suffer intentional?

If suffering is different for each of us, do we really know that we cause suffering to others?

When you can’t control the outcome of an event, do you suffer?

How does suffering manifest physically? Does it manifest physically?

This makes my head spin.

What I’ve learned in my almost 6 decades of living is that definitions can’t always be defined. Many words contain subtleties, nuance and complexities dictionaries can’t possibly cover. Often, definitions are emotional, which are feelings that can’t always be explained.

To complicate matters, as we move in to a more technologically “advanced” world, our form of communication (texting, email and written/photographic word) lacks the finesse to understand the nuance person to person conversations once held.

So maybe we need to go back to defining what we mean when we say certain words. Because in reality, your suffering may not be like my suffering. And should we understand that in order to better love one another and/or get along with each other?

2 thoughts on “Defining Definitions – To suffer

  1. -I take it to mean that you must understand what you believe in otherwise you will suffer. Isn’t it our obligation to understand what we believe in? There should be no surprises. Should things go awry we may suffer but we must then decide on a course of action.

    -If you believe that each human being is an individual, unique and distinct, then you have to accept the fact that we all suffer in our own way. For example, if a population is starving individuals may manifest similar physical traits but, emotionally and psychologically, each “suffers” in his/her own fashion. A single definition cannot not exist.

    Have I muddied the water? Have I added anything new?



    1. Thanks for your reply!!

      I think you do have to understand what you believe but/and that comes with age and learning. And we all learn through different lenses. I don’t know if obligation is the right word, so many go through life with blinders on (?) Won’t there always be surprises as that’s part of life and things we don’t expect to happen always do, then we suffer. OR – we let life happen as it does and we adjust, or decide our course of action as life moves forward.

      I agree, a single definition cannot exist, hence all my questions!! The water is always muddy…


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