January 10, 2016

How to Open into Suffering.

Nicola Romagna/Flickr

There is something deeply personal about suffering.

It’s hard for me to remember that my grief is not unique, especially on those days when I’m sitting alone in my apartment waiting to hear back after yet another job interview.

Deep down, I know that human beings are designed to experience a broad range of emotions like joy, anger, fear, and sorrow. Why then is expressing my disappointment about failed relationships, botched job interviews and unfulfilled dreams so difficult? Why is it so hard to admit my past failures and mistakes to others?

There seems to have been a shift in our collective understanding about the nature of suffering. Suffering is no longer an inevitable part of life. Being happy is a personal choice, attainable with the right mindset and the right attitude. I can be more mindful when answering questions during job interviews. I can have better relationships at home by setting aside quality time with my boyfriend. I can visualize my best self to lose those last 10 lbs. If I’m unsuccessful in my life, therefore, then it’s my own damned fault.

Failure is no longer an action or series of actions but an evaluation of who I am. Failure becomes an identity.

No wonder suffering has become a private affair. But how long will we continue to suffer in silence?

Let’s reclaim the notion that suffering is an inevitable aspect of human existence. We can make mistakes, even enormous mistakes, and not allow ourselves to be defined by our failures. We can acknowledge pain and dissatisfaction in our lives and not be discouraged by our shortcomings.

Don’t get me wrong. I do believe that mindfulness can alleviate some of our pain and sorrow. Spending time with loved ones can improve our relationships. But even after landing that dream job, there will always be troublesome circumstances like an insufferable boss or monotonous paperwork. After settling down with a wonderful person, we will inevitably have to deal with family members who annoy us or awful snoring that keeps us up at night.

It’s time to recover what we have lost in our endless pursuit for perfection. Let’s accept ourselves in our wholeness, admitting our strengths as well as our failings.

Suffering, I believe, is fixating on the gap between what we have right now and what we want for the future. Like many people, I sweat and groan at the gym each day in the desperate hope that my future body will be thinner. I apply for numerous jobs to alleviate the current anxiety of being without a regular paycheck. Many of us aspire to be better people, and have dreams about what we want to achieve in our lives. But what if we used our anxiety and frustration of the present to embrace the uncertainty of our future?

Let’s turn that painful, terrifying gap between the past and the present into an opening. Let’s envision suffering as an uncharted space into different possibilities. What would happen to our lives if we moved into areas of uncertainty? What if we let ourselves experience pain as well pleasure, joy as well as sadness, anger as well as forgiveness?

I don’t know what will happen in the future. I don’t know if I will get a better job or have a more loving relationship with my boyfriend. I am certain, however, that there are many opportunities to live better lives. We can have a richer, more meaningful existence by moving toward those things that frustrate and frighten us.

Let’s choose to accept suffering for what it is—a natural outcome of human existence. Let’s decide to lean into our suffering and move together into uncertainty.



Relephant Read:

The Difference Between Pain & Suffering.


Author: Marisse Roco

Editor: Catherine Monkman

Photo: Nicola Romagna/Flickr


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