In many ways it’s been an intense couple years, with huge highs and heartbreaking lows. Its been particularly challenging this year to maintain a persistent sense of steadiness, spaciousness, equanimity.
I've been suffering.
Suffering is such a sledgehammer of a word but it’s accurate. Big sufferings like losing a loved one and little sufferings that are more like mental and physical discomfort. It's my own personal suffering marbled with the suffering of the world which often feels so personal.
Pain, whether physical or emotional, is natural, normal, even necessary. It's purely information. But suffering is that additional layer of story we add to our pain. This shouldn't be happening. I can't handle this. Will this pain get worse.
Lama Rod Owens offered this powerful invitation during a recent dharma talk in Durham...”don’t waste your pain.” Pain is actually serving us, showing us where it hurts, showing us where to let go, even reminding us of our interdependence. Pain triggers suffering when we resist just being with it...listening.
Pain is inevitable and suffering optional, but it's also true that suffering is unavoidable. Real talk. It's the First Noble Truth.
I tend to manage my suffering by overanalyzing it, distracting myself from it, trying to rush through it, or spiritualizing it...in essence using my personality or ego to navigate my suffering, to avoid genuinely working with it.
These strategies don’t seem to work as well anymore; they feel played out. Or maybe I’m just more aware that they don’t work. At best they provide some temporary relief, and at this point I'm more interested in getting free than playing with emotional pacifiers.
How I meet and hold my suffering is a practice on the path to liberation. Suffering is the ultimate practice space. And trying to bypass this practice by circumnavigating my suffering keeps me stuck at the level of ego instead of trusting, relaxing into the Awareness that can hold it all, tenderly, with curiosity.
I used to think the goal in life was to live and think in ways that avoid suffering or that move me through it as fast as possible. There’s a certain level of superficial success and personal development possible with that approach to life for sure. It's also exhausting.
But to feel truly free I have to cultivate my capacity to hold and care for my inevitable suffering in ways that create space for insight and wisdom to emerge.
How do I care for my suffering?
I no longer want to expend valuable energy trying to avoid suffering or overindulge it by repeating unskillful habitual mental patterns and actions.
I want to suffer well.
Pain can trigger suffering and I won’t waste this pain or this suffering; I’ll use it to get free.
May we all be free.
By Sharon Shelton
The L2YL coaching process embodies an inside-out approach to personal and professional transformation, developed specifically to help busy people design increasingly joyful, abundant, fulfilling, mindful lives. Contact me when you are ready!