How to End SufferingWhile pain might be inevitable, the suffering that comes from the pain is not. Suffering is not a state of life, it is a state of mind. Suffering is your response to an event. Whether you suffer or not depends entirely on your reaction to that situation. ~Paramahamsa Nithyananda (Swamiji)
Today, I will get (more) personal.
I’ve debated about whether or not to share this information in a post. It was a quiet battle between keeping my personal life somewhat private, and the intense desire to share the lessons from this important chapter of my life. In sharing, I’ve surrendered to my fear of being judged negatively by you – readers of Think Simple Now.
My husband Jeremy was married once before. During the early stages of our romantic courtship, he was simultaneously battling the lingering ends of an unsettling divorce (things got ugly and someday I hope to share the details of this tale with you – perhaps in a book). Suffice it to say, it felt like it was never going to end.
For about six months, my inner stillness was disturbed and stirred up by the negative feelings revolving around this event. My “pain body” came crawling out in full, front-and-center view, and stayed with me while causing unnecessary suffering.
Even when his divorce was finally over, I didn’t feel much better. The feelings of resentment and hate (however subtly in my subconscious) for his ex-wife remained for another three months after the fact – until two weeks ago to be exact.
This article isn’t about forgiveness or complaining about my own self-inflicted pains, but it is about personal freedom. The kind of freedom from the massive mountain of stories we’ve piled onto ourselves that result in suffering.
Are you experiencing anything that is causing you worry, heartache, resentment or stress? If so, continue to read and allow me to share the story of my new found freedom… and how I got there.
As excited as we were for having found each other under extreme circumstances, the pending divorce hovered overhead, and a battle for money and properties continued without an apparent end in sight.
Part of me felt as if I was living under water – unable to breath – suffocating. An imaginary dark cloud hung over me, and it seemed to never leave. Even when I pretended that it didn’t exist, whenever I looked up, there it was, that dark piece of sky, high above my head.
Finally, six months later, the divorce was finalized, after Jeremy decidedly gave in, so as to quickly end the prolonged cycle of destruction and suffering.
Well, for me, the pain didn’t end there. From my perspective, here was a grown man who’d left an unfulfilling marriage, and lost nearly everything he had ever earned in his ten years as a working professional.
Here was a man who I loved and adored more than anything else. When I saw that he was being hurt, it hurt me too. The spirit of mother in me, of survival, wanted to protect and fight anyone threatening to hurt my family. I was like a walking cave-woman, minus the animal-skin skirt and wooden club.
To say that I was unwell and unbalanced is an understatement.
The Last Episode
Over the past few months, I have worked diligently at overcoming these negative emotions and associations. Through observing myself in dealing with the repercussions of this event, I have written about surrendering to pain, and ways to overcome resentment, and thought that I was over it…. until two weeks ago.
I have come to learn, that sometimes, change happen in stages. With each interval of self-initiated suffering, I’ve gained a new found understanding about myself, and am better able to get a grasp on my emotions.
Two weeks ago, being the appointed money manager for our household, I started mapping out our finances, and linking our individual accounts to financial planning software.
After several hours of generating reports, creating spreadsheets, consolidating accounts, and running numbers, I was exhausted and should have stopped working. But insisted on linking the last of Jeremy’s accounts. To my surprise, his employee stock portfolio had a balance of zero. After some clarification, I realized that he had lost the balance in the divorce settlement.
Suddenly, all those negative emotions I’d felt towards his ex came rushing back. I had allowed the cave-woman in me to take over once again, and I raged feverishly in madness – well, not literally, but emotionally and figuratively speaking.
I was upset! Justifications of why this was unfair appeared vividly in front of me. I allowed the stories of ‘reasoning’ and justifications to be repeated, and I ended up feeling worst. It was a negative downward cycle.
My months of practiced Zen-ness went flying out the window, and I had allowed my ego to over take over my bodily and emotional control. My stomach was tight, I felt unconsciously unaware, and I experienced a tremendous amount of pain. It was horrible.
Rising From the Last Episode
Photo: Simón Pais-Thomas
“The question is not how to change ugliness into beauty,
pain into pleasure, or misery into happiness.
The question is how to change the unconscious into conscious,
how to infuse awareness into ourselves and embrace reality as it is“
~ Paramahamsa Nithyananda (Swamiji)
Like standing in quick sand, I felt myself sinking down. I wanted to overcome this, but something was pulling me down in my inner battle with my ego. I wanted the pain to end, yet part of me silently enjoyed and nurtured the pain, and wanted it to prevail. In the most extreme of moments, I felt that I was on the edge of despair.
The pivotal point came when I realized that my own pain had started to disturb the peace and joy of those living around me. Jeremy in his own expression of courage, embraced me in the worst of my emotional states, sat me down, looked deeply into my eyes and said the following:
- You are so powerful. You can use your persistence and strength to get yourself out of this state.
- You’ve worked so hard to learn how to handle these situations, now is that critical time to apply what you’ve learned. Now is the opportunity to set yourself free.
- There is nothing I can do now to change the past. It is what it is. Everything happens the way they happen, remember?
- Babes, why are you creating this pain for yourself?
His words were like water for my thirsty soul, re-grounding me, re-entering me, reminding me to bring awareness into the situation, to take conscious control of my actions by observing my mind with detachment.
I knew he was right, but part of me wanted to say, “No thanks, you’re wrong.”
I felt an inner resistance in me, wanting to justify my unconscious actions and self-torture.
To answer his question, “Why are you creating this pain for yourself?”, I replied, “Because it feels good. It satisfies my ego’s need to attach itself to problems. But deep inside, it doesn’t feel very good. My stomach feels tight.”
Part of my mind was still latched onto the unfairness of money lost, and clung onto that story with a tight grip. And then, it happened, Jeremy said the last sentence that finally unleashed the chain I had created in my mind.
He said, “I would pay a million, a billion dollars to be with you. I think about you throughout the day, and can’t wait to get home, every day. I love our family. I love our life together. What we have here is priceless. Why aren’t we spending our precious time on being together and celebrating our love? Instead, we are digging up and reliving the past.”
These final words shattered the last of the stories conjured up in my mind. I saw, once again the reality of the situation, and it became clear that I was latched on to the past, a fictitious past beyond my control that was causing me varying levels of fruitless suffering.
So stupid, I felt. Yet, I had learned an important lesson about pain and suffering on my journey to inner enlightenment and personal growth. In the end, it wasn’t stupidity, you see… I was simply unconscious.
I spent the rest of the evening journaling, sorting out my thoughts, extracting what I had learned, viewing it from multiple perspectives and giving the story my full awareness. After a few hours of introspective contemplation, I had spread over the pages of my journal, a clear view of the situation for what it is. I can fully accept the past for what it is, and recognize the gem within it.
The evening ended with me being in a deep state of gratitude, for having experienced this these past months, and thankful for Jeremy’s ex-wife – among other things, for being the catalyst to help me learn important things about myself.
Specifically, I had thanked her for being my teacher in disguise, her presence challenged me and pushed my emotional boundaries to limits I hadn’t known before. I wish her joy, laughter and love.
My head is finally out of the water, and I can breathe again.
Another Way of Looking at Pain
“Whether physical or emotional,
Pain is always born from resistance to the present moment.
It hurts because you carry the memory of the past.”
~ Paramahamsa Nithyananda (Swamiji)
Socially, we’ve been conditioned to believe that emotional pain is bad, and that we should get rid of it at all cost. But what we often end up doing is suppressing it by pretending that it does not exist. We shuffle it under the bed, where others cannot see it, and go on pretending to the outside world that we have no pain.
My personal experience has been; that which we resist, persists. The more we suppress something, the more it will stick around, and affect our emotional wellbeing in the long run. Pretending that it does not exist does not make it go away, it just prolongs the pain for us.
Consider this: What if we treated pain as our friend, instead of our foe? What if we embraced pain, instead of continuously pushing it away? What if we viewed it as our teacher, instead of constantly avoiding it?
The biggest take away I learned is that pain can be a phenomenal teacher on our path to inner fulfillment. There is always something to be learned from every “painful” situation, always something to be discovered about ourselves. What if we just focused on the lessons, and simply move on, without wasting any energy on stabbing ourselves with suffering that solves nothing?
Another way to think about it, without extremely painful moments, we would never feel motivated to change, to better ourselves, to become the person we were destined to become, and to taste the nectar of life that is our birth right.
Think of all the major personal growth changes and shifts you’ve made in your life, were they not inspired by some painful episode that preceded it? Perhaps a painful breakup that taught you about self-love and strength, a rough period of financial instability that taught you about courage and the power of persistence, a period of painful depression that taught you about the miracles of love and possibility.
Pause for a moment, and answer these questions (on paper, please):
- What painful episodes did you experience in your life that triggered profound personal change?
- What did you learn or gain from this period that you are thankful for today?
Things I’ve learned (and re-learned) are:
- Our thoughts create our reality. Our reality is conjured up by the stories we tell ourselves and others. What we think and talk about becomes our center of focus, and we miss seeing all the good things happening in our lives.
- Constantly repeating the same thoughts causes us to believe in them, even if they were completely made up in our minds.
- Suppressing the pain does not eliminate the pain.
- Suffering is a choice, and happens when we cannot relinquish the past. The past is not real, it is only in the vivid imagination of our minds. Stop torturing youself, and surrender to the past. “It is what it is, and so be it.” Choose to liberate yourself, right now!
- Pain can be a great teacher. Be thankful for it, and learn as much as you can.
- Emotional pain is always the result of our attachment to our own perspectives. Our ego stubbornly sticks to one side of the story, and repeats this story in our head on a continuous loop – sooner or later, we start to believe it as reality. But it is not THE reality, it is just our reality, and one of many other possible “realities”. Have courage to view the other possible perspectives, and developing compassion for the other “sides” will help to bring peace and eliminate our own pain.
- Ego loves pain and problems. It specifically looks for them when we are not conscious. Because those are the only things that can ensure its survival. Explode your ego, by shining the light of awareness on it. With awareness, we see that the story it has created is silly, unrealistic and unhelpful.
- I had learned the influential power of the mind. When we drift away from conscious awareness, even for one day, how easy it was to be yanked away from the blissful and peaceful state we were in just a day prior. I must prioritize my day to do things that nurture my soul before anything else.
- When I am feeling bad, my mind looks for more reasons to feel agitated, and I end up feeling worst.
Simple Solutions: What Can You Do?
Photo: Vadim Pacev
“If you become aware of something, you can get rid of it very easily.
If you are not aware of it, It remains with you.
The pain is a pain because it exists in your unconscious, not in your awareness.
Your fear of facing the pain allows it to exist and grow more and more.”
~ Paramahamsa Nithyananda (Swamiji)
I’m sure that the story I’ve described in this post is an uncommon one that you will (hopefully) not encounter. However, what was learned through this can also be applicable to other kinds of emotional pain that we all face in our daily existence.
Here, I will note a few pointers that you may find helpful for tackling your own brand of pain.
This is the key to overcoming any kind of emotional pain. As the beautiful quote above summarized so eloquently, have the courage to face your pain and problems square in the face. Become the observer, watch how the pain manifests in your body, fully feel the feelings of its sensations, fully experience the pain.
When you finally surrender and allow the “pain” to flow through you, you will see that you are not harmed, but that a new space is created in you for healing and learning. When you fully experience it and accept it for what it is, it will no longer have power over you.
Imagine your inner space as a physical container, if you continue to resist the “pain”, it remains in your container and will even expand itself. It will come back to haunt you until you can fully accept it. Isn’t it true that the past keeps repeating itself, until we learn the lesson and move on?
When your container is filled up, there is no space for anything else to enter, including energy for healing, for change, for growth. When you face the pain, and fully accept it for what it is, the “pain” gets released from this container, and new space is created. By doing so, you also expand your capacity for love, personal growth and compassion.
From now on, whenever you find yourself feeling the pain sensation, stop what you’re doing, close your eyes and become the witness of the experience. Watch as you inner space transforms. Don’t let this moment pass, stop the suffering before it grows out of hand.
Writing down your candid, honest thoughts can be deeply therapeutic, not just as a tool for healing, but a tool for discovering and understanding yourself.
When you are upset, start by writing anything that is in your mind, even if it doesn’t make sense. Get it out of your head! Write in detail what is upsetting you.
Once you get the negative thoughts out of your head, start asking yourself critical questions and answer them candidly (on paper, without editing). Here are some to get you started:
- What is triggering this pain?
- Why am I feeling this pain?
- What do I gain by allowing myself to suffer? What does that get me? Why do I want that?
- Is the person you blame physically and purposely causing me pain? Or have I created a story and put them in the blame seat?
- Do I want this pain to continue? Yes? No? Why?
- Why does part of me want this pain? What does it get me?
- What am I missing out on by allowing this suffering to take place?
- What will I gain if I am free from this suffering?
- Why am I not accepting of it? What am I afraid of? What am I holding on to?
- Am I focused on the past or present? If the past, what can I change about the past by allowing myself to be upset?
- Who else are you hurting by allowing this pain to linger?
You can gain a lot of insight through this exercise. Start with these questions, and write freely, allow your inner wisdom and conscious awareness to guide you through the process to gain clarity.
3. Gather the Lessons
You’ve been given a great gift through the present challenge in your life. And what we once labeled as pain is actually a priceless experience to bring up some deeply buried issues within us. Now that it’s out in the open, we can deal with it and remove it completely.
In your journal, list out all the things that you’ve learned. What did you learn about yourself? What did you gain? How did it benefit you?
Gratitude almost sounds cliché and overused these days, but it still stands as a powerful and underestimated ancient tool for fulfillment. By focusing our attention on the countless things we could be grateful for but take for granted, it opens up our heart space and allows love to enter.
In your journal, after you’ve exhausted the questions above, list out things you are grateful for that you have in your life. Focus on what you have now. Also, be thankful for the lessons you’ve learned, and things you gained as a result of this experience.
Side note: I like to do this simple meditation (inspired from Sufism) before I sleep. As I lay in bed, I focus on every part of my body, lovingly thanking it for its hard work and what it provides for me. I start with my feet and move up to the details on my head. We tend to appreciate our body when parts of it stop working, why not start now to encourage it to function healthily? Anyways, I always end up falling into deep sleep, feeling content and fulfilled with having been blessed with so much. And I wake up feeling the same sense of calming presence. Try it for yourself, tonight.
5. Accept the Past
Our future is constructed with the fabric of our present. And if our present focus is constantly colored by memories of our past, our future will only become a repetition of our past.
If we truly want our future to be different and better than our past, we must consciously choose, right now, to change our relationship with our past, and to focus on the present and the good in our lives.
If you don’t want to experience any more pain as a result of an event, stop telling people about it, stop repeating it, stop spreading it. Deal with it consciously and move on.
Change your thoughts, change your language, change your patterns; they will change your future.
6. Write a Letter
If your present “pain” psychologically involves another person, I found it extremely helpful to write a letter addressed to that person. Your goal isn’t to send the letter, but speak as if you were speaking/writing to them, for the sake of healing yourself.
In the letter, be truthful but compassionate. You may consider including some of the following points in your letter:
- Forgive them
- Share with them what you’ve learned
- Wish them good things
- Come clean with what things you have not said to them
- Thank them
- Date, time stamp and sign the letter with a kind ending remark
The process of creating this letter can be a glorious experience. Do it in your journal, it is for no one else to see.
Remember, not being able to forgive someone is like drinking poison and expecting the other person to die. This is for you. Take it seriously and do it authentically.
7. Be Gentle
On our path to personal growth and emotional mastery, we will experience moments of slipping back to our old ways of thinking and doing things. And the realization of this can be incredibly frustrating. I understand and empathize.
Please, please remember to be gentle on yourself when this happens. Congratulate yourself for having had the awareness and insight to recognize it, and that it is a sign that you are making forward progress.
Don’t put yourself down either, by saying things like “I’m a slow learner”. No, if that’s the case, we are all slow learners. Why are you putting us down too? I personally slip all the time, and have to forgive myself on almost a daily basis. It’s okay, it happens.
Before we part, I wanted to thank you for reading this far. For those of you inspired to make some changes, to liberate yourself from the suffering in your life, I applaud you for your courage, and I am excited for the amazing transformation you’re about to witness. Remember to be gentle with yourself.
* What did you learn? Share your thoughts and stories in the comment section. See you there!