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Let’s face it—unless you’re an enlightened being without a physical body, you experience suffering—in your mind and your body.
Thich Nhat Hanh says it well in No Mud, No Lotus that even the Buddha would experience suffering when a dear friend would pass away. He would experience sadness, his body could suffer indigestion and other physical pain. Indeed, without suffering we can not experience love and without love, we can not experience suffering.
To me, the spiritual or developmental journey is not about eliminating suffering. It’s about learning to remove the barriers we’ve built against love. It’s about suffering less through acceptance of suffering. It’s about cultivating love, joy, and peace, so we can access them in troubled times.
You will experience ups and downs as you advance on your spiritual or developmental path.
Here are three key truths you can learn so you can suffer well during the upcoming downs you shall inevitably face:
1. Hold your suffering with love
The first step is to recognize and bring awareness to our suffering with acceptance and without judgment.
Bring awareness to where your suffering is located within your mind-body being. Tell yourself, “I am aware that a part of my body or my mind is suffering right now.” Ask yourself: “What is causing the suffering of this part of myself? What about that is painful?” Let the answer come.
Bring awareness to the sensations in your body. Start by disowning your labels for the sensations (maybe you’ve labelled them as hurt, sadness, fear, or anxiety). Start to simply accept and experience them as energy moving through the body. Without a name.
Wrap the part of yourself that is feeling the sensation with the love you would give to a crying baby. Bring compassion to this part of yourself, releasing the temptation to be impatient or judgmental.
Breathe. Let the energy flow.
2. Don’t feed your suffering
Anything can grow if you feed it. Your suffering is no exception.
The main cause of suffering is the meaning our minds put to events and judgements it draws about others. Imagine you’re at a diner party and as you’re about to sit down, the person next to you stands up to find another chair. The meaning you bring to that event dictates your suffering.
If you interpret the person’s choice to sit somewhere else because “I am not fun or interesting or good enough,” your suffering will grow. If you blame them, judging them to be rude, your suffering will also increase. Those thoughts cause unpleasant and uncomfortable sensations or energy in the mind and body.
These triggers are often flashbacks from the past, moments in our lives where our younger selves felt hurt or rejected. It’s not the present that’s hurtful, but our hurtful memories which taint the present:
>> Bring awareness to the meaning-making machine which is your mind. Take a breath. Observe how your thoughts make you feel. Hold the part of yourself which judges. Hold the part of yourself that’s hurt.
>> Ask yourself: “Is the meaning I’m making serving me here and now? What about this person’s behavior is hurtful to me? Is the feeling familiar to me? Have I experienced this in the past? Is this a pattern I see often?”
>> Bring objectivity and understanding to the situation. The ultimate way to stop feeding our suffering is to see the behavior as a fact.
You don’t know why the other person decided to change seats. Does it matter? Just observe that another person changed seats when you sat down. Period. No meaning to it. No interpretation.
Judgement and resentment feed our suffering and poison our being. So intentionally focus on letting them go. Choose to see the person or situation with love. Choose love.
3. Feed your being with love
The best way to bring joy and love to your life is to cultivate them. Do more of the things which light up your whole being: singing, dancing, gardening, horseback riding, walking, sitting, meditating, reading, writing, calling a friend, connecting with friends…whatever it is for you!
Nourish your body:
>> Take care of your body to limit its suffering (we are mind-body energy systems so taking care of our bodies creates more love in our minds and lives);
>> Eat nourishing whole food which comes from the earth (no processed junk food); and
>> Eat mindfully. Eat when you’re hungry.
Move your body the way it wants to move, exercise with joyful activities you like or have always wanted to try.
Bring presence and mindfulness to your day. Moments of pure presence to what is, with no expectations, no judgment, acceptance.
Meditate on compassion and love. Wake up bring gratefulness in your heart for all the things you have, the qualities of being.
Spend more time in nature. Nature is an embodiment of love; spend more time there. You are nature. Not just a visitor.
Show love to others. Smile at a stranger in the street, talk with the cashier at the grocery shop, listen to your friend’s suffering with compassion, contribute to your community.
Remember that there is no love without suffering and no suffering with love. We can’t know love if we don’t know suffering. So bringing gratitude to your suffering enables you to actually experience love. This is the human experience and it’s amazing to live to its fullest.
Finally, sometimes we need support in our exploration of self, so don’t hesitate to work with a therapist or a coach.