To Overcome Your Suffering, First Understand How It Is Serving You

To Overcome Your Suffering, First Understand How It Is Serving You

By Heidi Priebe

Felipe P Lima Rizo

We’ve all heard that insufferable quote by Haruki Murakami, ‘Pain is inevitable. Suffering is optional.’

This quote makes most of us want to tear our hair out because suffering does not feel optional. Talk to the parent who’s unexpectedly lost a child. Talk to the lover who’s just discovered their partner’s string of unapologetic affairs. Talk to the child who’s been estranged by their family. Talk to the honest man or woman who got swindled out of their life’s work by a crook.

Suffering rarely feels optional. More often than not, it feels forced upon us, without our consent. We are arrested and appalled by our own suffering.

Suffering doesn’t feel optional, because we forget that our suffering serves a purpose.

We cannot fathom that it’s something we would rightfully choose.

Except that all of our emotions are a choice.

After all, what are emotions, other than the calculated value judgements that our minds assign to the value-neutral contents of our environment? We make value judgements constantly. Doing so serves us immensely.

It helps us to distinguish what’s important. It helps us to sort people and opportunities and events into categories labelled ‘significant’ and ‘insignificant’ internally. It helps us to cultivate a sense of meaning in a world of seemingly meaningless events.

Nobody leaves the front door to their well-being wide open and allows demons to collect in the lobby. Everything that exists in your mind is there because you have invited it in and assigned it a value judgement. So, sit down a minute. Take a good, long look at your houseguests.

Suffering only sticks around when it’s invited to.  

You might think you hate suffering. You might think he is your worst enemy, most loathed opponent or a fair-weather friend, at the least.

But you hang out with the dude quite a bit. Don’t you?

He’s there late in the evenings when you do not feel good enough – when trying seems difficult and believing in yourself seems unreasonable and it’s easier to put on your pajamas and have a good catch up with suffering. He’ll turn the TV on for you. Wrap a blanket around your shoulders. Whisper ideas for creative inspiration in your ear.

Not to mention, suffering likes to be taken out. There are occasions that are questionable to attend without him – he’s your mandatory date to a funeral. He’s the author of your most inspired work. He’s the partner who makes you more relatable to the people around you when he speaks up and makes things real, quickly. He touches upon what’s most human.

Other people tend to take a liking to your suffering. They want to bring him out on double dates with their own.

And suffering isn’t just an arbitrary party guest. He serves as a placeholder for much of what we’ve left in the past.

Where we once brought love, we now bring suffering. Where we once cuddled up to success, we now tuck ourselves in next to suffering. Where joy and hope and innocence once gathered to brainstorm the magnificent future, suffering now sits with his hands in his lap. Telling you that at least he is here. Holding the place for the past that you are aching for.

Suffering makes the absence of those things feel more meaningful. He keeps alive what you have lost; reminds you how much it all mattered. Suffering holds on for us, to what we are not yet prepared to let go of.

Suffering stays with us, not because we are too weak or too broken to release him, but because his presence always serves us in some way.

Maybe your suffering is there to keep a brilliant past alive for you indefinitely. Maybe he’s there to remind you how deeply something you did once mattered. Maybe you prefer suffering over the houseguests named ‘fear’ and ‘uncertainty.’ Maybe you aren’t ready to invite those through the front door yet. Maybe suffering keeps them at bay.

Maybe suffering isn’t the monster, the enemy you thought he was. Maybe you actually kind of like the guy. Maybe he’s stuck around for so long because some part of you wants him there.

And that’s okay. In fact, it’s normal. Realizing you’re choosing your suffering is often, ironically, the first step to bidding him ado.

When we don’t understand what we love about our suffering, our suffering becomes difficult to evict.

We shove him out the door in the morning, then welcome him back in under the cover of darkness. We lock him in a room to save for later, then barricade the windows to the outside world. We don’t understand why he keeps popping up. We fail to realize we’re the ones inviting him in.

When we get to know our suffering – all of his ins and outs, his flaws and redeeming characteristics – only then we can make a fully informed choice about keeping him around or moving on.

We begin to understand that evicting him means evicting a sense of stability. It means releasing our long-standing connections to the past. It means welcoming new, foreign guests into our mental space – guests named ‘uncertainty,’ and ‘groundlessness’ and ‘fear.’

Releasing suffering means allowing him to bury your past out in the backyard, in the graveyard that you very rarely visit. It means being okay with moving forward. With choosing the new life that’s awaiting you, instead.

It means staying up late talking to new house guests, named ‘Passion,’ and ‘Exhilaration,’ and ‘Change,’ and not feeling guilty for doing so. It means being ready to move forward, without your past hopes and dreams locked up somewhere in a closet, waiting indefinitely for release. It means clearing out that closet with finality. Allowing Suffering to take the contents with him when he leaves.

We have all heard the poignant quote, by Thich Nhat Hanh – ‘Out of a fear of the unknown, [people] prefer a suffering that is familiar.’

This quote, as per most quotes about suffering, assume it to be a bad thing. A demon or a monster out to get us.

We forget that for most of us, suffering is much more like an old friend.

One who continuously returns to us in our moments of unfathomable loss; hand extended. Suitcase empty.

Ready to help us pack up our past desires and move quietly, cautiously into a new future. One where our expired hopes are cleared out from the closet. And the new ones, when we’re finally prepared to invite them in, have an uncrowded place to hang their hats.

Author: Heidi Priebe

Author. Blogger. Speaker. Founder. Person.