The Gift of Suffering
I recently read this quote by Eckart Tolle – “Wouldn’t it be wonderful if you could spare them from all suffering? No, it wouldn’t. They would not evolve as human beings and would remain shallow, identified with the external form of things. Suffering drives you deeper. The paradox is that suffering is caused by identification with form and erodes identification with form. A lot of it is caused by the ego, although eventually suffering destroys the ego–but not until you suffer consciously.”
I immediately identified with that quote, it struck a chord with me, resonated with my energy field, whatever or however you may relate to that sort of thing – I was immediately present when I read it.
I just went through what was probably the most tumultuous two years in my life, I watched my parents and my husband’s mother die; two from cancer one from Alzheimer’s. I watched my great-aunt and uncle both suffer strokes within months of each other and end up in a nursing home, one with limited sight and the other with limited mobility. My great-aunt and uncle never had children so they think of me as their daughter and my kids as their grandkids. Let’s just say it was two years of hell.
I have developed lots of wonderful defense mechanisms over my lifetime that have helped me survive initially real and then later perceived dangers. I have even named them, Martyr Bitch, Chicken Shit Escape Artist, and Pathetic Loser. However, what I learned about the last two years is that when you are in the middle of a “shit storm” of suffering I had a choice. I could wrap myself in a cocoon of defense mechanisms and render myself totally useless or I would have to fully expose myself, spread my wings and feel the suffering, be fully present and aware so I could truly be with my dad, my stepmom and my mother-in-law as they were dying. It meant confronting many uncomfortable truths about myself and why I developed these defense mechanisms. It meant being more aware of when I was falling back on these defense mechanisms. So the gift of those two years of suffering as Eckart Tolle so magnificently states, drove me deeper and loosened the grip of my identification with form. My ego was no longer sitting shotgun, it was very unceremoniously moved to the backseat.
I have always been a wimp when it comes to suffering if I had an experience where I experienced the slightest discomfort I would make sure I avoided that kind of experience again so I could avoid feeling bad. I know I am not alone here, that’s why there is so much addiction today. People who drink too much or abuse drugs are engaged in the same avoidance of suffering or pain.
The only problem with that thinking is that suffering and discomfort is a natural completely normal part of life so as I was going around avoiding what I identified as; bad things, bad people, and bad experiences I was short-changing my life. I was not living authentically, I was not being me. I couldn’t be the real me if my thoughts were telling me to avoid situations where I imagined I would cause someone else to do or say something that I would be uncomfortable with, so I felt the best way to handle my illusion or imagined response was to keep my mouth shut, avoid it, say nothing. WRONG. Now I am not saying go around and bait others and create discord by blurting every single thought that pops in your head, but what I was doing is just as bad as people who do say everything that pops into their head and manifests chaos around them.
So very recently I found my voice, and sometimes, not all, but sometimes, what I have to say people do not like to hear. However, I am happy to report even in those instances an amazing thing happened, I said what I believed and when others did not like what I said, I was not annihilated. Wow, amazing what a concept, I can be real and still survive on this planet. Not only that, I can thrive, and the chaos I thought it would create in my life has not manifested. When I do speak my truth my intent is to say it with loving kindness. I am not always as successful and I would hope to be with this intent but I am a work in progress. I have also found this quote from a nineteenth-century guru Sai Baba to be very helpful to stay in integrity with my intent:
“Before you speak, ask yourself, is it kind, is it necessary, is it true, does it improve on the silence?”
While we view suffering as an abomination and no one looks forward to suffering nor do we typically seek suffering, suffering is part of the human experience. We should learn to see it for what it is, part of the natural process, and rather than repel from it, learn from it go deeper. Suffering has given me this great gift of transparency and from transparency I am able to witness my thoughts rather than be a slave to them.
“The truth that many people never understand, until it is too late, is that the more you try to avoid suffering the more you suffer because smaller and more insignificant things begin to torture you in proportion to your fear of being hurt” – Thomas Merton