What does it mean to suffer consciously?

Nobody wants to suffer. In fact, I think the goal of many people’s lives is to stay as far away from suffering as possible. Pain is no fun, because you know…it’s pain. When we are in pain we spend most of our energy trying to figure out how to get out of pain.

You put your hand in a fire, it burns, the hand moves. That’s lesson two in the “Life 101” handbook (unless you like that type of thing then burn on my friend.) Nonetheless, for most of us if we are suffering, or more appropriately, if we are “in suffering” (because we cannot be suffering) it can be a peaceful to practice “conscious suffering”.

Most of the time when we are suffering it’s because we believe we shouldn’t be having the experience we are having. “I shouldn’t have cancer”, “I shouldn’t be going through a break-up”, “I shouldn’t have lost my job”, etc. We are resisting what is happening and therefore fighting the Reality of the situation. We are hurting and we want it to stop dammit!

Pain is typically a warning that something needs to be addressed (although sometimes we inflict pain because it’s what we are used to, or we don’t know any better). But what’s wrong is never the situation itself, that’s always neutral, but our thinking or judgement about the situation.

You may say to me, “Sterlin, if I have the stomach virus from hell and it feels like the Tasmanian devil is playing Dance Dance Revolution on my innards, it’s not my judgement that my stomach hurts… it hurts!” And I would say to you that we’re both onto something. Yes, your stomach hurts (apparently), but you make it hurt that much worse when you add a negative story to it.

Typically we can’t just stop at “my stomach hurts”. Your stomach hurting is a relative fact. But the fact that you don’t like that your stomach hurts, or you have to miss work and you can’t afford to, or you had plans for the weekend you have to cancel and now you’re going to miss out, or whatever…therein lies the judgement and the creation of the negative story. We often don’t stop at the facts themselves but in a gross act of self sabotage we add a lot of extra mess onto it that increases our suffering.

If we can’t do anything about a situation at the current time then we can either accept it or argue. Accepting it moves us out of resistance, arguing moves is further into pain.

“My stomach hurts” appears to be a fact for you at that time. Everything else is a story you’ve attached to it.

The other part of conscious suffering is looking at what the experience is meant to teach us. Now we could argue that finding the meaning behind the suffering is the creation of more stories, and that is very true. However, isn’t it more kind and peaceful to believe a happy story than a painful one?

When we shift our focus to the thematic messages of our life events we start to look at our experiences on a deeper level and remain open to the possibilities of what we are being shown about ourselves. And yes, it’s always about us. It can’t not be.

If your partner spontaneously leaves you with no announcement or apparent reason and we suffer, it is about us. I don’t mean this statement in the self-reprimanding, low self-esteem way. I mean this in the most empowering way possible. When we realize that everything happens for us, not to us, it moves the responsibility and power back to us. That doesn’t mean that we can always change the circumstances of the situation but that we can work with the only thing we can change…ourselves.

When we begin to look at the deeper or more pervasive messages behind our suffering we begin to suffer consciously. What this means is we give our experience meaning. The most painful suffering experiences of my life have been those when I was unable to find the meaning or the reason behind the suffering.

Sometimes because we are mired in the experience of our pain it can be difficult to find the meaning behind it, and as a result we may need to find someone who can provide a greater perspective (spiritually, psychologically or emotionally) to what the experience may be signaling to us. This is when other people become messengers. Incidentally, the best messengers help us to discover what our own meaning is.

One way to find the meaning in our suffering is to think of your life as an archetypal fairy tale. Look at your life as though you were reading it or as though you are watching it as a spectator. Identify the central themes in your life (and there’s only a handful of themes human’s work with over and over again such as loss, forgiveness, acceptance, empowerment, and control.)

Then you identify how the scene that is currently playing out reflects one or more of those themes. How has the character (you) dealt with this theme at other parts in the story? And how can the character choose to work with this theme at this point given the realization that the theme has appeared again on order to be worked through, so that the character (again, that’s you) can develop?

When we start to view painful experiences in this way it does a couple of things 1.) it moves us out of unconscious identification with what is happening and allows us to pull back (which incidentally eases the severity of the suffering) and 2.) it positions your experience as a gift rather than a punishment. When you realize the experience was given to you by you, you can no longer blame anyone else for your suffering (which is empowering and freeing).

You recognize that even if someone commits a terrible transgression, you (and the forces that be) orchestrated that experience for your evolution. How wonderful.

Conscious suffering is an act of courage that prevents you from living in blame or resistance and moves you into the empowered state of understanding. It offers you a opportunity for growth and the possibility that you may not have to work on that particular theme if you really experience and understand the breadth of the experience. Living and working through our karmic lessons doesn’t mean we’ve done it right or wrong but that we’ve understood the experience.

That doesn’t mean you won’t ever suffer again, and its entirely possible the same theme will show up to test your learning comprehension if not in this lifetime perhaps in another to really ensure you mastered that test. Earth is a big ol’ finishing school so the lessons never s top, and human beings love to learn.

The experiences you’re dealt are very rarely (if ever) more than the soul can handle, although the personality may hate them. The experiences we’re dealt also reflect our level of consciousness at any given time and the subtlety of our experiences may alter as we continue to grow and evolve.

When we are conscious of the deeper meaning of suffering (and you nihilists out there know that even your nihilism is a form of meaning) we stop arguing with our pain and start dealing with it as conscious participants, rather than innocent victims.