January 13, 2016

What to do When Suffering Pops In & Overstays Its Welcome.

man at table coffee painting

“Out of suffering have emerged the strongest souls; the most massive characters are seared with scars.” ~Kahlil Gibran


I felt a familiar tinge of emotions pulse through me and flush my face warm—someone I didn’t want to hear from was back for a visit.

It wasn’t depression. It wasn’t pain. I know these two detractors like the lifelines coursing my palms. Their dark contours and uneven presence is imprinted like a seething kiss that deposits an invisible scar on my lips; one only I could see, feel and replay on demand.

He was a familiar intruder, but this time he’d come solo, unannounced, stomping and demanding my complete attention. Suffering was wiping his feet clean at my doormat with deafening knocks wanting to be let in.

So I did.

I had no inkling how long he’d stay put and what will be asked of me during his stay. Will he couch surf, then leave unceremoniously? Or was his plan to plop his suitcase right next to my bed, his toiletries in my bathroom and follow me around everywhere in the apartment? And, maybe leave shortly after? Or was he planning on hitching a ride on the subway, coming to work and stealthily attending all my meetings?

How about when I had lunch or dinner? Or when I headed into bed, worn out and under the covers—would he be right next to me gnawing inside my ears, needy, asking to be attended to?

I didn’t know.

All I knew for sure was, he is here and I will need to welcome him in as I would any feeling, positive or otherwise.

Here’s why his entry caught me off-guard: I wasn’t sad or on a downward spiral of any sort. In fact, it was quite the opposite. I was in deep contentment, pleasantly surprised at a wonderful synchronicity that was carving its way into my world.

As I sipped my morning chai, a situation I had secretly desired was coming alive in ways I couldn’t imagine. I was watching a movie of multi-colored vignettes, breathing possibilities waltzing right in front of me, as if it were real.

A few hours passed. Then the thoughts crashed in, unannounced, and went something like this:

“What if it goes south? Will it be the same three, five or 10 years down the line? How is this even possible? Was my response good enough? Remember the last time this happened? Is this good thing something I deserve? Am I ready? What if…”

More of these debilitating words poured in throughout the upcoming days, leaving me spent in their wake. Both mind and eyes watched, detached, as these tired, ugly stories came undone, unfurling like ribbons at my feet.

I always thought suffering came in tow with negative situations, not when we’re happy. I realized almost immediately: Suffering is situation-agnostic.

Suffering is the emotional experience of having a negative story we attach to how we feel about: ourselves, our present life, the past or even the future. It deals with the expectations we might have interacting with others or having expectations in general. It may or may not include pain; in my recent case, there was no pain.

Suffering appeared because I had conveniently sidestepped the present moment and instead of savoring it wholeheartedly in how it had manifested, I handed reign to my mind on a silver platter.

In attaching these old, dis-empowering thoughts, I courted suffering with all the fanfare fit for a king.

While this bout was a bit of a surprise, what typically works for me did with this situation as well. And I’d love to share it with you:

1. I start with loving acceptance of everything I am feeling. I shun nothing out.

Not. One. Single. Thing.

This is where I believe true magic can make its way through—when I allow it to get as messy, icky and dirty as it needs to. Healing gets a fair shot when every feeling is embraced as if it were a self-made choice.

2. I practice mindful gentleness with myself (i.e. no self-bashing) and say these words when emotions crop up:

“It’s okay to feel this way. It happens. It is completely fine to put yourself out there and be unapologetically you. This is not permanent. We’ll work on it together—I got your back. I am loved and I am held. Release the shame. You are human.”

3. I also encourage myself to keep to a daily routine.

Mine includes a spiritual practice to help me come back into my own experience more wholly and stay grounded. It can be a variation of waking up early, journaling, walking, meditation or working out.

If you do something that helps you, by all means keep at it—share with us too! And depending on what you are up against, making it a twice-a-day practice for as long as possible helps. It can be as simple as setting a 10-minute timer to sit silently at the beginning and end of the day to calm the mind.

Each time I have found myself in this place, I am reminded to look beyond myself and nestle in the realization that my suffering is not separate from someone else’s. I am connected in my humanity, in this journey with every living being in the entire cosmos.

For me, spending time volunteering with the elderly or the youth, buying a homeless person a meal, purging my apartment of things I can give to charity or sending an encouraging message to a friend propels me into a state of complete connection. I give myself permission to step out of my story.

Lastly, I would like to gift you with this Sanskrit mantra for peace, within ourselves and for everyone.

This composition has been my companion ever since I heard its soothing, melodic tune a little over a year ago. It’s a prayer chant with a message of peace, goodness and happiness for all.

(Listen here and see a beautiful rendition by Tina Turner and a bunch of kids, here).

Sarvesham Swasti Bhavatu
Sarvesham Shantir Bhavatu
Sarvesham Purnam Bhavatu
Sarvesham Mangalam Bhavatu

May auspiciousness be unto all
May peace be unto all
May fullness be unto all
May prosperity be unto all

Sarve Bhavantu Sukhinah
Sarve Santu Nir-Aamayaah
Sarve Bhadraanni Pashyantu
Maa Kashcid-Duhkha-Bhaag-Bhavet

May all be happy
May all be free from illness
May all see what is auspicious
May no one suffer

Om Shaantih Shaantih Shaantih
Om Peace, Peace, Peace.


I am listening to it right now, on repeat.

I can sense my untimely visitor hesitating, lingering because he has delivered his message and certainly seems to be on his way out. And my situation? It will be what it will be, nothing more and nothing less.

If you are embattled in a struggle or enduring suffering of any kind, I hope you know: you are not flying life’s kite all alone. We are in this together.


Relephant read: 

Reframing Suffering to Remember We’re Not Alone. 


Author: Neelam Tewar

Editor: Nicole Cameron

Photo: Sara/Flickr

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