“You don’t just have a story — you’re a story in the making, and you never know what the next chapter’s going to be. That’s what makes it exciting.” — Dan Millman
Avoiding painful moments in life can cause suffering later when the pain resurfaces. I realise it’s difficult to face pain, especially when it arises unexpectedly. However, to avoid dealing with it means it is likely to come back at a greater intensity. Is this something you can relate to? Have you put off dealing with painful experiences and have them resurface later on? Perhaps it was a relationship breakup or the death of a loved one? Irrespective of the situation, many of us stow away the pain because we don’t want to deal with it. Let’s be real: pain and suffering is not pleasant.
Yet, life is not what is depicted on social media either where people flaunt a snapshot of their best selves, only to go back to their lifeless existence. Life is an interplay of wonderful moments, interspersed with periods of pain and sometimes suffering. The degree to which we suffer lies in our capacity to accept the conditions before us. Pain and suffering arises when our experience is not what we had in mind. We resist what takes place and expect circumstances to be different and so the ego rears its ugly head. As you know, resisting life is futile because reality trumps our expectations. Is this something you’re willing to embrace and integrate into your life? I assure you, accepting difficult moments will appease your suffering and help you move through the pain quicker.
It is worth clarifying that accepting your circumstances doesn’t mean you must enjoy it, quite the opposite. It would be remiss of me to offer this advice. What I am saying is: there’s no point resisting pain and suffering because it creates more pain and suffering. We can butt heads with reality hoping things are different or accept what is taking place and allow it to move through us. As we do, we discover valuable lessons in our experience. I realise this is not as pretty as it sounds because who wants to experience painful moments after all? Yet, if we continually skim over them, it is like skipping past chapters in a book and reaching the end, claiming not to have enjoyed what we read. Skimming over chapters of our life because it doesn’t feel good means deferring important lessons that should help us grow and evolve.
“There are two mistakes one can make along the road to truth… not going all the way, and not starting.” — Buddha
I’m yet to meet anyone who has thrived in idyllic conditions. Have you? What I mean to say is: we gain growth and insights into ourselves through our hardships. While they are not pleasant, once the dust has settled, and the experience has passed, we can see how the storm helps us to evolve. I am drawn to author and psychotherapist David Richo who explains in The Five Things We Cannot Change: And the Happiness We Find by Embracing Them that trusting our feelings and ourselves means dealing with whatever takes place without fearing the worst: “No feeling is inherently negative or inappropriate even if it seems unjustified. What is negative is repressing a feeling or being possessed by one. Some feelings are painful, but they become less painful as we allow them to move through us and as we no longer fear them… Most of us have not tried just sitting in and through a feeling experience. We have not trusted ourselves enough to let our feelings take their full course. So we never find out that a feeling is not so tough on us as we imagine it will be. We miss out on how much better we feel when we let go instead of hold back. Nothing is so hard to handle as the fear of facing it.”
My greatest realisation over the years is that life is cyclical and nothing lasts forever. This is important because if we skip over painful times, we forgo seeing the entirety of our life story unfold. This is not a way to live because it shows in how we respond to life. We become that person with a remote control who fast forwards to the next scene of a film. As a result, we miss out on vital clues that tie the story together; so it is of our life. Skimming past the dark and painful periods means we are no better than the social media accounts who promote a Utopian existence. They are allowing us to see only part of their story, not the whole. We want to know who they are when they are: vulnerable, angry or sad. I realise such images don’t make for a pretty picture to post online, but we can’t fool others.
Is this making sense? Because living wholeheartedly means to embrace the dark moments while savouring the pleasant ones. It is possible to experience both and still be kind-hearted. In fact, some of the kindest and compassionate souls I’ve ever met are those who’ve experienced great pain and suffering and remain humble and kindred spirits. We mustn’t allow unpleasant moments to scar us but use the wounds to heal ourselves and the world. In doing so, we appreciate that every experience is only a part of our life’s narrative and we wouldn’t want it any other way.
Originally published at medium.com