Viktor Frankl in his book "Man's Search for Meaning" (that will hopefully inspire many a blog post of mine) tells the reader that unavoidable suffering can be meaningful, but avoidable suffering cannot.

avoidable suffering, if pursued, is masochism. unavoidable suffering, if endured, can surface a deeper, richer, fundamental, meaning of life.

i imagine two similary related concepts on the other end of the spectrum: attainable joy and unattainable joy.

pursuing an unattainable joy while enduring an avoidable suffering represents a sort of perfectionism. whereas pursuing it while enduring an unavoidable suffering represents a mix of courage, dignity, self-respect, grace and compassion. the former represents abuse and the latter represents love.

pursuing an attainable joy might seem like common sense, but it also may be something that is achieved once enough spiritual growth or trauma work has been done to access the ability to avoid avoidable suffering. enduring unavoidable suffering may seem masochistic, but not if you have done the work or experienced the growth it takes to acknowledge that some unattainable joys are worth pursuing, regardless of the outcome. in fact, the lower the chance of the success (the more unattainable it is) the greater the need to pursue it if you are in the middle of unavoidable suffering.

the act of pursuing joy that seems unattainable when i am unavoidably suffering is my spiritual journey, as i work through traumatic reactions. joy goes from unattainable to attainable the more i can endure unavoidable suffering with love.

what does it mean that something is avoidable or unavoidable? practically, i think it has to do with control. in Frankl's case, it was unavoidable to live in the concentration camps, with the threat of execution always near. becoming consumed with bitterness, apathy or hatred was avoidable for him. he found ways to move through thoughts to avoid those mental states. that was in his control. i may not be able to choose between unavoidable and avoidable suffering, but i can choose between avoidable suffering and attainable joy. the interface between them is permeable. i can move through it with my thoughts.

something can be unavoidable and potentially temporary: an illness, grieving, a task, an event, a phone call. knowing its ephemeral nature, suffering can be endured, even if the only end to it is death, hopefully in old age.