June 3, 2016

Out is Through: The Importance of Pain in the Mindful Life.


Esra Erben/Flickr

“The best way out is always through.” ~ Robert Frost

In the last year of my life, I have experienced great change. I made the decision to end my marriage, relocate and start my life over again.

I know that this was the right choice for me and for my family, but that doesn’t mean that it was easy. In the process of making that decision and turning my entire life upside down, I went through an enormous amount of suffering.
Mindful living is glorious when we’re experiencing joy. But when our current condition is suffering, our minds may struggle with remaining in the present; our defense mechanisms kick in to move us away from our pain. Part of living mindfully is learning to experience our suffering. Only by going through the suffering can we learn from it.

We don’t grow from avoidance. As long as I remained in a dead marriage, I wasn’t able to learn or to grow into who I needed to be. When we choose denial as a way of avoiding our problems, the problems don’t miraculously go away. Instead, they grow and fester, slowly rotting our lives from the inside out.

Sometimes we do this because our coping skills are not yet up to the task of managing the fall out and accepting reality. Our minds and bodies are trying to protect us from a truth too terrible to bear. The act of admitting our struggle is the first step in being ready to bear it. In that moment when we finally face our truth, we can take comfort in knowing that we have everything we need to handle it.

Sitting in our suffering feels terrible. Regardless of how mindful or spiritual we are, the pain can be an overwhelming experience. There were days when I felt that I would break beneath the weight I was carrying, days when I found myself lying on the floor just waiting for the waves of pain to pass. In the months before I filed for divorce, my entire life felt like it was falling apart. I had quit my job to be a stay-at-home mom, and suddenly I was facing single motherhood with only a small direct sales income to support myself and my two babies. I didn’t know where we would live or how I would manage work and childcare. I struggled with the loss of a marriage that I never thought would end as I began to accept the fact that I was the only one fighting to make things better. Slowly, I realized that I would lose nearly everything—the town I lived in, my home, any sense of financial security, my marriage and any help with day-to-day parenting. I endured waves of grief as each fact settled on my heart, each sinking like a stone.

The reality of my situation would hit me at odd moments—while I was changing a diaper or putting on my makeup, sweeping the floor or choosing produce at the grocery store. The truth of my situation began to bleed into every aspect of my life, no longer willing to be ignored. It is still amazing to me that the peace came at the moment I made the difficult decision. When I decided to file for divorce, I finally began to feel peace rather than a higher level of stress. Instead of ignoring my feelings to maintain a status quo in a life rendering me invisible, I was honoring my own feelings and intuition. By doing so, I was granted some measure of calm.

The mindful life is essential for our growth. When we live our lives in this present moment, we can be challenged when the moment is difficult. When we’re grieving. When we’re angry. When we feel a loss so keen that it seems like it takes everything in us not to cry out. When we’re lonely. When we’re disappointed. When we’re sad.

These are the moments that challenge and change us.

When we choose the mindful life, our choices are conscious and not made reflexively. This life requires being self-aware and tuning into our own thoughts and emotions. Our challenge is to move forward, prepared to face both our suffering and our joy in equal measure. We can choose to be challenged and changed, or we can choose to be discouraged and defeated. We begin to understand that it is the suffering that moves us to our greatest joy when we allow ourselves to move through it.


Author: Crystal Jackson

Image: Esra Erben/Flickr;  photolist/Flickr

Editor: Pippa Sorley



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