How to turn your suffering into an ally
Thursday, March 12, 2020
No one likes to suffer. Whether it’s physical or emotional pain, we’d much rather avoid it, and often go to great lengths to do just that. But what if instead of trying to escape the experience, we looked at suffering as an ally that has come into our lives bearing gifts?
I know that might sound trite or insensitive. But bear with me. Having personally experienced my share of intense suffering, I wouldn’t dream of sugar coating it. Rather, my intention is to show how navigating suffering can be the way a surfer rides a wave. Rather than let it knock us down, it can give us a huge advantage in terms of the length of time spent suffering and the powerful personal benefits it yields. Before we look at those benefits, let’s look at five steps to help you move through the suffering:
1. Don’t resist.
When we resist, we tense up and this tension actually sharpens and prolongs suffering. It adds pain on top of pain. Acceptance, on the other hand, smoothes the rough edges and lets you relax and breathe.
If you’re currently suffering, try something. Just for a moment, stop struggling, stop bracing yourself and try letting go and allowing it. It may take a few attempts, but you soon you will begin to see the overall difference (however subtle) in how you feel.
2. Don’t identify with it.
When you identify with your suffering, you hold it close to you, take ownership of it and strengthen it by making it yours. While it may be yours temporarily, it is not you; you are not defined by it.
It is happening within you and around you; it is having an impact on you. That is all. And though it may feel that way when you’re in the middle of it, it is not all that you are. It is a house guest that has dropped in for a visit, but don’t invite it to move in long-term. It can stay until it wears out its welcome. After that, by all means, show it the door.
3. Express your feelings.
I mean that. Like it or not, it is better to express than suppress your emotions. This can be uncomfortable and painful. However, if we deny ourselves this release, it will only delay our movement forward.
Yes, we will probably feel as though we can’t go on, but our feelings are not facts or even the truth, they are just our experience and if we let ourselves have them fully, they do pass. It’s when we deny them that they go underground and wreak havoc with our psyche, our relationships, our immune system, and just about everything else that matters. Give yourself permission to express your feelings.
4. Embrace the present.
The best medicine is to put our attention on what’s right in front of us. No more. No less. It helps keep us from getting overwhelmed by the intensity of what is happening. We can ask ourselves the simple question, “What’s the next right thing to do?” And just keep moving from one moment to the next, not focusing on where we’ve been or where we’re going, but where we are. What we’re trying to do is to stop the frenzy, the flight or fight response that keeps us in a hyper state of alert, which can lead to burn out and exhaustion.
5. Connect with others.
While you’re suffering, you may need to hide out for a while and lick your wounds. You may even convince yourself that you’re the only one going through this particular situation. But ideally, you’ll hunger for connection. When you do, you may be surprised to discover your vulnerability actually makes you more receptive to others. You discover you need people. Your veils are down, you’re raw and open, and believe it or not, people respond to that.
When you’re down and out, you will naturally be drawn to people who have at one time felt the way you do. They’ll be able to offer comfort, suggestions, or even just listen with understanding. And that, my friends, is worth its weight in gold.
Once you move through these five steps, the gifts of your suffering will reveal themselves: a new perspective, a softer, more compassionate heart, a greater sense of belonging, a shifting in priorities and even a commitment to make some changes in your life. As you come to appreciate these gifts, you may also discover that while you might not ever voluntarily choose to suffer, when it does happen you can turn that experience into an ally — a friend that comes to transform the pain into blessings.
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