When considering the notion of suffering, our first thoughts and feelings might be that it is something highly unwanted, something we would rather not experience, something that we would do anything to avoid. Yet without exception, each and every one of us experiences suffering to some degree, at some point in our lives. That is, before we realise the bigger picture it fits into.
When we are in a state of suffering, our perspective over life can easily shrink, and we are prone to falling pray to despair and hopelessness. But I believe the significance and role of suffering goes far beyond the surface appearance it might have. And when we start seeing its deeper meaning, the reason it exists for us, we can flow through it and let ourselves be transformed by it.
A natural part of life
Suffering is as much part of our lives as any other state of being we experience – ecstasy, blissfulness, anxiety, depression, happiness, peace and so on. It is an integral aspect of our human experience.
It is a force which has shaped life on earth. When species have experienced adverse conditions, suffering was the catalyst which has forced them to adapt and ultimately evolve into more powerful versions of themselves.
Suffering is an integral part of growth, it is what pushes the old out, and brings the new in.
Putting boundaries on our life
We tend to avoid, block out or run away from anything that can cause us suffering. We build walls to protect us from both inner and outer suffering. But what we often don’t realise, is that in protecting ourselves, we are also severely limiting our capacity to experience life in its full richness. We deny ourselves access to life’s infinite possibilities and cancel our potential for growth.
As we cut ourselves off from potential suffering, we also cut ourselves off from potential bliss. Thus, our whole life experience shrinks and exists only within the confines of what we allow ourselves to feel.
How we relate to it
Suffering is the condition which forces us to evolve, grow, and develop into better, improved versions of ourselves. Out of this understanding comes the realisation of choice. When we consciously choose how we relate to our suffering, how we see it, and whether we take advantage of it, our experience of it will change accordingly.
On the other hand, fighting with suffering which is already present in our lives, amplifies our pain. When we learn to embrace suffering, accept it for what it is, and let it teach us its lessons, we can transcend it. In this way, suffering can be the bridge that takes us to a different version of ourselves, to a new us.
Rejection vs Surrender
Pain is inevitable. Suffering is optional.Buddha
I love this quote as it offers a different perspective on suffering. Most of our suffering comes from a rejection of what is, in the present moment. If we are experiencing pain in any form and reject it, instead of getting rid of it we actually feed its energy through the force of our opposition, and thus perpetuate it. This is when pain becomes suffering.
Eckhart Tolle tells us that a lot of our suffering is self-created, as it comes from an interpretation of a situation, a thought about it, not the actuality of the situation. And that we can be released from this self created suffering when we surrender to what is.
Surrendering is not about quitting or giving up on oneself, but rather about accepting the actuality of what is. Surrendering is a wonderful tool through which we can release ourselves from the suffering which is self-created, and change our experience of the suffering that we still need to go through.
Suffering can be a wonderful teacher. It is through suffering that we realise the blessings which we have taken for granted, and it is through suffering that we gain the self-empowering gifts which we can share and make use of, for the benefit of all.
Suffering is the chrysalis we have to go through, in order to be transformed into a more beautiful version of ourselves. When we accept the possibility of experiencing suffering in our lives, we are opened to it. And by opening ourselves to it, we transcend it, and emerge wiser, happier and more powerful than the person we were before.
Be gentle with yourselves in times of suffering, knowing that it has the potential to transform your life, if only you trust the process and choose to make it work for you.