October 6, 2015

Reframing Suffering to Remember We’re not Alone.

Woman underwater- Kaare Long article

My heart’s been heavy with some family stress lately, and the dripping away of daylight emphasizes my sadness.

The other day, I was listening to a talk by meditation guru Tara Brach. She was talking about suffering, and she said something that I’ve been holding close ever since.

When I’m going through something painful, I become self-focused. The present moment drips away, with its bright colors and sweet sounds. Even the faces of the people I love most take descend into the background as my mind fixates on the problem at hand.

What Tara Brach said, as she was talking about the universality of human suffering was this: “It’s not ‘my suffering.’ It’s the suffering.”

Her rephrasing instantly clicked for me. When I think of problems as “my suffering,” I feel isolated. I believe I’m going through it alone, perhaps thinking that everyone else is happily waltzing along their path, just like Facebook would have us believe. But it’s not true, nor is it helpful to think that way.

When I was pregnant with my first child, I was terrified of the pain of labor. To help normalize the experience for me, one of my mantras was “Millions of women have been here. My friend Sarah was here, and my mom was here twice. My friend Megan was here, and my midwife has been here, and now I am here.”

Instead of childbirth being something I was walking into by myself, I instead imagined I was slipping into a stream of pain that so many other women had already survived. It didn’t ease the physical pain, but it added strength and a spirit of connection to the process.

We all go through shit. People we love die or get sick or leave us in other ways. We lose our jobs or depression descends or our kids struggle. This is part of being human, and no matter how polished we seem, we’re all messy.

We all wade through suffering—not our own, personal suffering, but the suffering.

The grief. The loneliness. The fear.

A few years ago I read a beautiful essay where the writer expressed her wish that we could all wear signs spelling out the difficult things we’re going through. This way, perhaps we’d all soften towards each other, we’d become more gentle.

I’m trying to internalize the knowledge: everyone weaves in and out of suffering.

I’ve been reminding myself of this whenever I start to sink too deeply into “my suffering.” I keep the words pinned closely, whispering, “the suffering,” as a mantra. I see “the suffering” in my children, when they get frustrated or hurt, reminding me that being human is really challenging whether you’re three or 41. I see it when I get an email from a stranger who’s lost a sibling, and though I will never meet them, their words echo my own story. And I see it when people are brave enough to be hold up their signs on social media, revealing that a parent is dying, or they’re struggling with depression.

The reminders are all around, and when I resurface from “my suffering,” I can see them.

I’m here now, in the thick of it, knowing that maybe, you’ve been here too.




More good stuff from Lynn:

A Tiny Mantra to Lighten Any Day.

The Upwards Spiral.




Author: Lynn Shattuck

Editor: Renée Picard 

Image: Christopher Campbell/Unsplash 

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