Suffering As An Option

One episode of Hoarders is about a woman caught between a rock and a hard place: She knows that she is a hoarder; the evidence is piled up all around her. Knowing that she has this problem makes her feel very anxious and bad about herself; trying to soothe these disturbing feelings she goes out to the thrift store to find more treasures since the hunt for them always makes her feel better, at least until she gets home. Without making the connection, she feeds the beast which is devouring her life.

We may not hoard, but her central problem is ours also: How do we deal with what makes us feel anxious?  Satan devouringFor many our inner life is a confusing mystery which causes us anxiety and some suffering, giving rise to such questions as: Why do I want what I want? Why do I feel what I feel? What do these feelings indicate? Sometimes, like the hoarding woman, we can be tempted to think dealing with these mysteries is optional; the problem is that what we don’t deal with winds up driving the bus instead of us.

On an episode of Lockup an inmate who was about to be put into isolation in the prison wails to the Warden: “Don’t put me in there, I’ll die!” The Warden, quite calmly, replies: “You won’t die, you’ll suffer. There’s a difference.” No one wants to suffer, but as anyone who has reached at least the age of 30 can attest, there is suffering in life which comes our way, whether bidden or not, whether or not we even deserve it. Car accidents, the pain of childbirth, and healing from a life-saving surgery come to mind. Like it or not, when what we don’t want comes our way we have to find a way to accept it rather than to reject it, to find a way to make it work for us rather than against us. A long time ago I learned that when something comes my way that I don’t want trying to fend it off only saps me of psychic and spiritual energy, as well as delaying the inevitable acceptance that I must embrace if I am to find peace. Instead, I have learned to use such unasked-for instances as an indication that Life is trying to tell me something about myself, something which I can only discover if I stop running from the revelation wrapped within the pain. This is not to say that we should go out seeking pain; believe me, like a pig hunting truffles, enough of it will find us on its own. But when it does find us… then what?

Does emotional pain cause you to run? Do you find yourself reaching for short-term solutions which only exacerbate the problem? What does this tell you about yourself? What would happen if you stopped running and stared at what frightens you? Would you die? Or would you only suffer?

Kahu Kimo

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