There is no option available for a pain-free life. We do have the option to have our suffering be meaningful or meaningless. While that might not seem like such a great choice, it can mean the difference between existing and living or even life or death. Meaningful suffering is that which results in some kind of redemption. It is a suffering that leads to something of value, such as a deeper understanding, greater compassion, forgiveness, acceptance, or reconciliation.
Transforming ordinary suffering into meaningful suffering requires the willingness to feel our experience fully without resistance to penetrate its depths. In so doing, we may encounter feelings of fear, shame, remorse, and grief. But we also begin to learn valuable lessons embedded in our situation. We become stronger and more resilient as we face ourselves directly. It is not by avoiding adversity that resilience is developed — but by gradually exposing ourselves to higher degrees of personal challenge, our capacity to withstand stress grows.
Part of the way we transform ordinary suffering into meaningful suffering is that we resolve to live in a way that the pain that we experience is not in vain. As we develop greater resilience, we become more productive, strategic about how we use our time and energy, more inclined to have a generally positive world view, and are more present in our lives.
When we deny our feelings, we cut off access to our strengths.
This process isn’t limited to acknowledging these feelings only to ourselves, because that is often not enough. It’s not until we express our feelings to others who can hold them with us without condemnation, that we affirm our sense of self-worth. In the process of disclosure, we feel less shame, and therefore, are more willing to authentically engage in our lives.
By honoring our emotions, we become more open, relaxed, and clear about our next steps. Being willing to admit the part of ourselves that feels like a victim, that doesn’t see any redeeming value in the situation, and wishes that we could be anywhere else but here is only a step along the way — but an important first step. It is only after allowing the raw feelings to be felt that we can move ahead. If we stay in this stage, blaming, being a victim, and not asking for help, our development will be aborted.
The next step is to take time in a quiet place where we can be less distracted, to take a deeper look. By journaling, we can put on paper whatever thoughts and emotions are present for us without censoring any of it. When communicating with another person who can receive our experience without judgment, we feel supported to express our feelings. We not only develop more clarity regarding the nature of our experience, but we also establish an equilibrium that was disturbed.
Doing the Work
As we do the work necessary to free us from negative mind states that prevent us from seeing clearly, old thought patterns that were activated when we are under stress begin to crumble away. The payoff for going against the conditioning that keeps us stuck in meaningless suffering is a sense of integrity, freedom, and power. We then draw on our natural strengths that enable us to more effectively deal with adversity. When we do this, we become more confident in our ability to meet life’s challenges because we are accessing a more complete range of our capacities.
As we move through the cycle of recovery, we stop blaming and holding ourselves as a victim.
We can reach out to ask for help, get vulnerable, stop holding grudges, forgive, and let go. At this point, we move into the opportunity positioned right alongside the pain. We move ahead and tap into the healthy part of ourselves, shifting to a more optimistic point of view. That’s the recognition of the meaning in the suffering, which sets us free from the heaviness of the pain. We finally gain our most important life lessons that are well worth the price of the struggle.
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