Graceful Suffering

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“I may have a strange relationship with my suffering but it’s only because it’s loved me enough to show me the gaping holes in my foundation. And I can’t say anything or anyone has cared about my personal growth as deeply.” – Jade Black

My single greatest spiritual teacher has been my own suffering. It has shown me where I am attached, what I am afraid of, and what blocks me from fully loving myself. Nothing has taught me more about the human condition and nothing has guided my personal growth like my suffering has. In a very specific way, I have become very fond of my suffering because it brings
me gifts that I can’t find anywhere else. Because I am focused on loving myself, I first have to clear away any impurities that restrict or taint my ability to love. I do not have awareness of any ‘impurities’ that exist within myself until they are highlighted by my suffering.

I have used illness, my marriage (and divorce), financial trouble, failures and family difficulties, to learn about the ‘impurities’ that significantly limit my capacity to love. These impurities, for me, include a stagnating fear of happiness and success, negative ideas about my ability to problem-solve or employ my intelligence, and give and receive affection (to myself and others),
etc. I may not even call them impurities, but perhaps describing them simply as obstacles might be more gentle and fitting. These may not be the same for everyone, but I have learned that each individual has their own way of employing negative self-talk and making their lives more complicated than required.
When everything is going right (or on schedule) in life, many people do not seek to learn anything more about themselves. Why would one reach to explore the most hidden parts of ourselves if there is no immediate disruption? It is only when suffering occurs do people want to change something about their lives. What we do with our suffering will determine how we move
forward in our life journey. Suffering is inevitable and this is clearly detailed in Buddha’s four noble truths, but how we perceive our suffering is a deliberate choice. I can choose to run from my suffering and avoid all the things that threaten to make me suffer. This may provide temporary relief… But I’m still left with the attachments that cause the suffering underneath. As
long as these attachments are unrecognized they have the capacity to control my life completely, oftentimes without any awareness on my part. The other option is to choose to embrace the suffering as a teacher and guide to learn how to love. By doing that we destroy the cause of the suffering (or attachments that cause the suffering).

In order to illustrate this concept, I’ll draw on a very common example. Say I experience a break-up with a partner, it doesn’t necessarily matter how we ended, but the fact of the matter is that we are now apart. I feel hurt, confused and alone. These feelings will automatically make me uncomfortable and I will try different things to avoid feeling this discomfort. I may search
for a ‘rebound’ partner or perhaps for a one-night stand. I find someone and I think to myself… I have a new boyfriend or girlfriend and I’m feeling much better now! Problem solved… but is it? Or is the suffering just hidden temporarily? The point here is the pain still lives inside me (even though I think it is gone). It is still in there, but might be described as sleeping or dormant.

Now if I experienced a break-up and sat with myself for a while, perhaps asking why I am so hurt? Why I identified so much with the union? I may find a path that unlocks my suffering and allows love to move in. It is really about perspective and using the circumstances of life to further acquaint ourselves with who we are. The benefits are endless, and in this particular case,
doing so will allow for a more healthy future relationship.

I am not a masochist that I face my suffering, I am a seeker of love and in order to further find it I am required to look my suffering in the face. To look at the blocks within myself (attachments) that limit how I can love. I want to make it clear that I don’t go around looking for suffering. I don’t jump in front of cars or attempt to feed wild bears, it doesn’t work like that. Life will bring you the suffering that you require on your journey and that is when I welcome it as a noble and
gracious teacher.

It is amazing to see how far I have come with suffering. Before when suffering came into my life I didn’t have the courage to sit with it, or extract any type of lesson. I couldn’t transform it or work with it in any capacity. I would self-medicate in any and every way I was familiar with until I couldn’t feel it – or anything for that matter. This of course later backfired because I
wasn’t learning the lesson I was intended to. As with all lessons, if you don’t learn it the first time it will shape shift and circle back around to greet you down the road. Now I look at how far I have come and I am grateful for all the events that have occurred in my life. Even though I suffered through my journey, I wouldn’t change it because of what it led me toward – love. It
takes a lot of courage and perseverance to transmute our suffering into a path for loving ourselves. This journey is not for the faint of heart, it is for those who are truly seeking a way to open the heart. It is for those who prefer peace above anything else. It is for those who choose to use their lives as a curriculum for healing and joy. The next time you are feeling the pains of
suffering you may turn to face it, inquire about its’ origin, make friends with it, or take a lesson and actively incorporate it as you move forward. One day you may even thank your suffering for the very precious gift it is giving.

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