If you’re like me, you probably don’t like to suffer.
When something bad happens, you don’t dance with glee.
I know I certainly don’t jump for joy when I’m feeling some form of suffering, like terrible anxiety, for instance.
And going through a deep depression was one of the scariest times of my life.
But I’ve learned to find meaning in it.
At first, it would take years to find meaning.
Then the time period shifted to months, then only a matter of weeks.
Because suffering isn’t suffering unless you treat it as such.
It sounds so simple and offensive when I write it like that, but I know it to be true.
There are two main forms of suffering as I know it, but I’ve only ever really followed one path in dealing with them.
Not Wanting to Experience Pain
Pain hurts. It’s not something that feels good in the moment.
For me, the core type of suffering is feeling physical or emotional pain.
When I was a child, I thought physical pain was the worst thing in the world.
And when an older kid tipped over an indoor, plastic jungle gym that should have been bolted to the floor, I felt the searing pain of a broken left arm.
But as I’ve gotten older, the pain I try to avoid is the emotional kind.
Because I find it to be so much worse.
It’s fairly easy to avoid physical pain.
But emotional pain?
It can sneak up on you.
Emotional pain can stem from a bad relationship.
Or it can be rooted in family dynamics, which makes it much more complicated.
And at the heart of it all is this pervasive thought/feeling:
“I don’t want to be experiencing what I’m experiencing. Make it go away.”
And the reality is that this aversion to suffering makes the suffering you are experiencing so much worse.
It adds a new layer of pain to an already painful experience.
Acceptance is the Only Way
I’ve never found a way around this.
I’m never able to heal unless I accept what I’ve gone through.
I’ve broken a few bones in my life, but I never once decided not to accept that fact.
I knew the bones were broken, and I knew I needed medical care to treat them.
So why did I think that I could simply refuse to acknowledge my emotional pain?
In hindsight, it seems preposterous.
Yet we do it all the time.
How is emotional pain any different than physical pain?
Try This Tactic to Deal with Suffering
Next time you are experiencing emotional pain, I want you to try to acknowledge it.
You don’t need to fully accept all bad things that have ever happened to you.
But you do need to open yourself up to the opportunity to find some meaning from it all.
Don’t you deserve that?
At some point, when you’re in a quiet place, just try to welcome in some of the pain you’ve experienced.
Think about how it has shaped you as a person.
Consider if it’s preventing you from being the person you want to be.
Just notice how you’re feeling.
Sitting with pain shapes the experience of pain.
Being with your emotions is not the same as being bossed around by them.
The more you do this, the more you might start to realize that suffering doesn’t have such a strong hold over you after all.
Acceptance is an Ongoing, Evolving Process
This is not something that happens once.
You can’t put a neat little box around your pain like you could a gift for your Aunt Betty.
Pain is a seeping, evolving thing–and so is your acceptance.
Let the latter grow, and watch the former recede.
The key is to view your life with compassion and curiosity.
Suffering never feels good when it first happens, when it’s felt most acutely.
But suffering doesn’t have to be bad.
In fact, over time, you may realize it’s not.
Suffering has given you lessons, and it’s given you meaning.
It’s taught you about limits, about growth, about what you’re capable of.
And it can teach you so much more.
If you let it.