Written December 2014

A long while ago, the word ‘suffering’ vanished from my dictionary. It packed its bags and unceremoniously walked away to join all those other missing words in the void of missing words never to be seen again. Or so I thought. It chose to leave another word in its place. That word was ‘experience’. The word ‘experience’ is neutral, it has no attachment to negative or positive, good or bad, right or wrong. It just is. Experience is what we feel, what we gain once we travel through a situation that has presented itself to us.

Suffering is negative and implies something we would rather not face. Most of us choose to anesthetise ourselves to stop feeling it. And therein lies the dichotomy. It is the suffering itself that gives us clues in how to stop suffering.

Just the other day, the word ‘suffering’ popped out of the void of missing words. There were no fireworks or standing ovations. It just appeared in my consciousness again. It hadn’t returned for good but was on sabbatical from the void of missing words. It had something very important to say so I listened and wrote down what I heard.

What is suffering? Suffering comes from the fear of ourselves, from looking directly into our eyes and seeing hatred and impotence staring back. Suffering comes from the fear of our potential should we discover our boundaries have vanished and we are left bathing in the light of our Soul. Suffering comes from the inability to deal with what life serves up. We clear one plate and then almost immediately another is served overflowing with insipid and unsavoury experiences we find almost impossible to digest. Suffering comes from the resistance of what is parked inches from our face looking for expression, demanding our attention, asking for resolution.

There are always parts of ourselves we do not like be these our feelings, our thoughts, our form, who we are. We do not start life fearing or hating but learn it from others as we grow and evolve as they provide the example with which we live our life. Osmosis offers the perfect illustration of how to behave towards the people we meet on our journey from birth to death but perhaps more importantly, how we behave towards our Self.

We inherit the pain our parents carry. We absorb their uncertainty, their scrutiny, barbed comments, terrible secrets, unwanted attention, a shout, an action, boundary violations, their criticism, their misunderstanding. We inherit their fear, their anxiety, their views, their philosophy of life, their dogma, their judgement. We too learn to judge. We may discover that their love for us is conditional, that we have to hide major parts of ourselves to obtain and keep their love. Stepping behind the masks, behind the ever thickening walls, is where our suffering begins. Suffering can only end once we are willing to step from behind our shadow and into the light of our Soul.

A lot is said about suffering. They say that suffering makes you stronger, that the challenges you face in life help you evolve, help you transform into a new being. Anything that doesn’t kill you makes you tougher and more able to cope. Religion tells us that suffering is the closest to Holiness, that suffering is your salvation, that you must suffer, must endure, must hurt, must agonise for every second of every day of your life; you cannot be considered religious otherwise.

Where there is an element of truth here, it is not the whole picture. What most people forget or do not understand, especially the religious books, is that growth comes not from the suffering itself but from the transcendence of it, from allowing it to pass back to those who harmed you, to let go of those events that scarred you in some way. To continue to suffer is to remain the victim, to remain in needless pain and agony. The suffering is in the constant weight of thought, emotion and feeling not released.

Transcendence is a journey of reconciliation and understanding painted in the colours of forgiveness. You forgive people not for them but for yourself so you no longer carry the pain, the suffering and the torment into a future that contains only peace, tranquillity and acceptance of what is. The reconciliation is with yourself, to understand and accept yourself. So much more of you is on show and becomes visible to you as well as those around you.

With mindfulness, you dive into the pain of feeling, submerging yourself in the void of infinite possibilities. The void contains stillness and chaos in equal measure. The ripples of your plunge stirs the darkness and loosens its hold on the amorphous mass of feelings hidden within. The movement shakes the chaos and shifts a feeling to the surface as it bubbles into your consciousness. With it comes a word, a phrase, a sentence, an image, describing that feeling. You have to listen to this fleeting whisper, really listen.

The word creates a shift within, an epiphany, a moment of revelation helping you to move to a different place in your journey, to help you release, to support you in letting go of the suffering. The pain we feel contains a message, a very important message. Once understood, you can liberate yourself from the pain and move into a place of peace. We all say we would like to feel better when in reality we should actually be better at feeling.

You stand on the edge of the diving board ready to take the plunge into the void. We all tend to wait, procrastinating until the level of discomfort reaches more than we can stand. Has your suffering become so painful that the unknown, the void of infinite possibilities, looks positively inviting?