Acrylic painting by Srimati
I have crawled through the dark and I have seen the light, only to crawl through the dark once more. I know what suffering means because, like many, I have experienced it deeply. Suffering has opened my heart up to compassion for those muddling through darkness themselves. It has given me a clear vision of my ego entrenched hang ups that require smoothing, and it has revealed to me what I truly want out of life.
I talk about suffering because it’s a common human experience that many people fear and shirk away from. But I think it’s important at times to narrow in on suffering in order to see it for what it is. Some teachers simply call it contrast—I think to make suffering not sound as intimidating. But when you’re in the throes of suffering, the term contrast doesn’t quite fully express the depth of the experience.
Suffering occurs when we have aversion, or resistance, to a certain set of circumstances. It is unpleasant, horrifying, and rejected with every atom, every cell within our being. Suffering is rejection.
Most importantly, suffering encompasses a range of feelings and emotions. It is vastly important for us to understand this, so we are not treating the word suffering as if it is a one size fits all or as if it is something that is us. It is not singular and it is not binary. It is a range. It is not who we are, only an experience. It does not belong to us, it is something happening for us.
Coming back around to the idea of diving deep into the core of suffering, one can easily see through the lens of wisdom how viewing suffering in such a way can help us to accept what is and transform suffering into love and acceptance.
Suffering is not meant to punish us; it is meant to help us discover, to unveil the mysteries that are hiding deep in our subconscious realms; both the good and the bad. It helps us root out the fear, the doubt, and the pain that we have held back and repressed our entire lives so we can unveil the beauty, love, and joy of our soul.
Suffering opens our heart to the suffering of others. It opens our heart to the creator of the universe. Suffering is a tool that polishes us. All these reasons and more is why it is important to be present with suffering rather than reject it.
What I am talking about is not to repress your suffering. On the contrary, in order to come out the other side the best you possible, you need to allow every second of feeling.
When you allow your feelings—the grief, the pain, the sorrow, even the anger—you are caring for yourself. Much like when a child comes to you hurt, you do not yell at the child and tell it to go away, you hug the child, treat the wound gently, maybe even kiss the boo boo, and you sit with the child and help them to remember their joy. Be your own best friend and don’t turn away suffering as if it is some enemy. It is a hurt child that needs caring, understanding, and attention in order to heal. Because the suffering is there for a reason. And if you ignore the suffering, it is bound to rear its way back into your life. Don’t stuff it away. Feel it. Acknowledge it. Learn from it. Allow it to transform and unveil. Allow it to initiate you. Be the observer of your suffering.
Acceptance is the opposite of Suffering
Just as rejection leads to suffering, so too does acceptance lead to healing, peace, love and joy.
The more we ease into suffering, the more we can come to a place of acceptance. We see how our own desires, aversions, and expectations have lead us to our suffering, and we can clear ourselves by living more presently, going with a smooth and easy flow rather than resisting life. This is what acceptance is all about. Acceptance is living hand in hand with our Creator, riding on the wave of life as the surfer rather than the ill-fated victim of the undertow.
Suffering Teaches Us
Suffering teaches us what we want and what we don’t want out of life. In this context, suffering can be safely referred to as contrast. Contrast exists to show us opposites: black and white, night and day, love and fear; these are only some examples of typical contrasts we experience on this earth. Suffering’s counterpart is peace. When we are at peace, we do not feel suffering, even if we are in the middle of something that may have otherwise caused suffering.
We have peaceful times in our life that provide us with rest, comfort, and joy. In these times we experience that which we are attracted to, that which brings us joy. Or, we have learned through a system of techniques to easily accept all circumstances around us without aversion. Suffering is the opposite; it reveals to us our aversions in life. That which we fear, hate, and have no tolerance for. In these moments of contrast we learn what we don’t want. Sometimes it can be as easy as deciding it for yourself; “I don’t like this, so I won’t choose it.” When you go to the bakery you have a choice between breads. If you hate sourdough, you can just easily choose a different type of bread. Suffering in this way is like the bakery; it is showing us our options in the form of an experience. The experience maybe unpleasant, but it still reveals to us powerful information about our psyche and our personal desires.
This form of suffering can be powerful in helping us discover our life’s purpose or even what we simply desire in the moment.
Suffering teaches us compassion. When we experience suffering, compassion arises in our hearts. We understand what it feels like to be in pain, to grieve, and to be afraid. This gives us the opportunity to embody more love and compassion for others.
It teaches us to develop understanding and embody transformation. In this space, we are able to teach others how to transform and offer our students understanding. We’ve been there before and we know. We can show them how to walk through the fire and make it to the other side more whole and integral.
So how is suffering a key to the universe? Suffering opens up the pathway for our own personal enlightenment and transformation. It is an initiation into something much greater and deeper than we currently know. It is the initiation into mystery. It is the ultimate guru.
In love, service, and remembrance of self,