I wrote an Instagram post today about pain vs suffering. The attached meme said "Stop complaining about things you're not willing to change".
We all complain at times. Life seems to play tricks on us … we don't get that promotion or contract we went for … or your kids aren't the perfect beings you imagined they'd be … or hormones, stress, ill-health take us down and we find ourselves being less than 'perfect'.
This is what I call suffering.
Suffering is the consequence of resisting reality.
Life is Life and always will be. The ideals we create around how Life should be (even though it is moving in its own ways) are the precise beliefs that cause our suffering.
You wanted that relationship to last forever but now the person is gone? Or you lost that client who you thought was your 'bread and butter' and now they've got budget constraints or found someone else.
These are examples of ways in which Life informs us that our version of reality is ready for an upgrade.
These upgrades can feel brutal. We prefer to believe our own thought stream and want to continue inhabiting in our own blind truths for as long as we can get away with it. But if we're lucky, Life will tug on our collar and lead us forward.
The level of resistance we have to Life shifting course will be the degree to which we'll feel hard done by, victimised or confused.
But Life isn't wrong. Life is just Life. It is only our notion of how Life should be – particularly when it appears to be moving counter to our preference – that requires a reset.
This is where we can begin to decipher the difference between pain and suffering.
In Buddhist philosophy all of life is suffering and it is our acknowledgement of this that creates a pathway out.
Suffering in Buddhist terms is not a locked door. The path to the cessation of suffering is found within the Four Noble Truths which include seeing things as they really are. But even without knowing anything about Buddhism we can witness this in our own lives.
Believing and hoping that things will go according to our plans is a form of suffering. Learning to let go of that pattern can be painful, and often is. But identifying how that type of pain is actually a form of healing vs staying stuck in the same old pattern of suffering is key to our happiness.
Facing the real pain is our gateway to freedom.
I've been stuck in an unconscious cycle of suffering with my mum for most of my life. I believed she should be interested in me. I believed that one day she'd show up for me in an emotional way and we'd connect. I believed that if I did just the right amount of personal development I'd be able to win her over and we'd suddenly have a thriving relationship that feels connected and full of love.
I was wrong.
My mum recently told me she didn't know if she was interested in me.
We got to that place after a 'conversation' where I shared news of my latest Uni studies, mentioned a brief relationship I'd been in with a guy that had ended, and spoke about a presentation I'd given to 100 soccer players.
I was met with silence.
Not a word.
All that work I've done to grow as a person, get over my social awkwardness, learn how to express myself more fully has done nothing to make my mum be more interested in me. Her emotional numbness is not mine to fix. It's also not mine to complain about.
I realised in the moment when she admitted she didn't know if she was interested in me that there was a great truth in that. I was finally facing the pain and allowing the suffering to fall away.
I began to see that for 50 years I've held onto a fantasy that my mum will show interest in me. But having just reached the milestone of 50 I'm able to witness the fact that that will likely never happen.
Painful? Yes, but not more painful than believing in a fantasy that will never become a reality.
The pain of being 'nothinged' by a parent is certainly more searing than remaining on a merry-go-round of will-she won't-she. Suffering is often long-lasting but pain is transformational and has a much shorter life span.
It might hurt more in the moment but there is a freshness on the other side. The other side is HEALING.
This week, after having that conversation I've felt my body trembling involuntarily at times. I've been fatigued and sleeping deeply. Having vivid dreams and noticing that as well as the inner tremors, I simultaneously feel more steady and grounded.
Touching our pain isn't something we can necessarily pick and choose. This level of healing will often arise in its own sweet time. But when it does, we must trust that we are ready and not turn away from it.
Suffering is ongoing and repetitive. It's often accompanied by complaining and bitching about things. Whenever you hear yourself repeating phrases such as "not this again" or, "he/she always/never etc" then you're in that trap.
If you have a story that's been running on a loop then I invite you to initiate change by welcoming a deeper truth. How? Meditate on who you want to be. Reflect on the patterns that are showing up in your life. Contemplate what it is you might be avoiding that is keeping you stuck in this cycle.
Once we can traverse that bridge, which will inevitably involve stepping into an initial phase of agony we will be met with an intense rousing of our spirit. We will find that once we're ready to shed those shackles of suffering and face the real pain, Life opens up new doors that we never even knew existed.
Being brave enough to transition through suffering into pain is the doorway through which our lives become evermore abundant and meaningful.
If you're ready to break old cycles, tune into your heart and soul and ask for the pain to show itself.
Be brave and lean in.
You got this xx