Change is Evolution; Pain is Inevitable; Suffering is Optional

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Suffering is self-generated and so is Happiness.

I am sure I have heard it before but recently when I read “Pain is inevitable, Suffering is optional,” it stopped my busy mind in it’s tracks! That is the way it goes for so much of our learning. We can hear or experience the same thing many times and subconsciously it may be creating fertile ground for the one time that we are truly ready to hear it or experience it and it’s like all the gears align in that moment and we “get it”.

Pain is definitely part of every living beings life. It is inevitable. Many of us spend a tremendous amount of life energy trying to avoid pain rather than living fully in the moments of our life so that when the inevitable physical, psychological or emotional pain comes, we trust that we are capable of navigating through it.

The reality for so many of us human animals is that when we experience a painful event, our psychology and emotions can get stuck in the circumstances and we stay there, suffering about what happened or what might happen. We see pain and suffering as partners in the experience of life.

I have grown to understand my own capacity to create happiness and that I am actually accountable to myself for the energy I spend either living in the moments of my life connected to people and experiences that ARE my life or allowing the inevitable pain and struggle of my life to continue recreating some aspect of that experience and drawing energy away from living fully NOW.

As I reflect back on painful episodes in my life, I can recall losing people and non-human animals who were dear to me, experiencing critical changes in many aspects of my life from family to finances to work and friends. All of these things, at that time, were deeply connected to how I experienced happiness in my life.

In each of those hard human experiences the full body searing emotion had an intensity that words barely describe. It is mostly understood through our shared human experiences. We all know those feelings, those moments, that darkness, the pain, the shame or vulnerability. And then grief naturally arises and we begin to mourn the loss of some aspect of what our life was or what we thought it would be. And sadly, we are often incredibly self judgmental.

With healthy supportive friends and family and an understanding of and compassion for our process, we can move through these experiences, feeling each emotion along the way. We can grow, stretch, heal, and come out the other side more resilient, wiser. We can become better equipped to ride the tide of the next inevitable life change. We can lean in to the change, surrender to the inevitable and choose not to suffer. WE CAN!

But what happens for many of us is something different. Our healing process gets short circuited by something we create in our own minds. And because of how our brains work, the thoughts we are creating around that experience, can also create emotion, behavior patterns, and life beliefs that actually keep us stuck in “suffering.”

I read recently that “suffering is the extra that our mind adds to an already painful situation.” And that extra is the part we have control over. That is the part we can choose to be accountable for. This is the place where we can move back in to the process of fully moving through our painful experience so that we feel complete vs. defended, rationalized, justified or defeated. We feel ready to move forward with our life in a more resilient and hopeful way.

Be witness to yourself, from a loving and compassionate place, and when your mind starts to add an extra layer to your real pain, struggle or grief, gently remind yourself that you have the capacity to move through your experience fully rather than getting stuck in the suffering your mind is creating.

Whatever human life pain you may be in the midst of right now (loss, health, finance, relationship, family, stress, anxiety…) reach out, reach up, reach across and get a hold of the support you need to courageously move through your emotional process. Our human heart, mind and spirit are vulnerable. It is our greatest strength and can be our greatest downfall. We each get to choose life fully feeling or life suffering. The difference matters deeply to our happiness.

We are all works in process and in my process – which aligns in many ways to your process; we can choose to be thankful for the people who love us and the guidance of wise friends, mentors, and our own strongest desire to be the woman/man we truly want to be in the world.

Here are some of the ways I work with myself and my clients when life has us up against the wall and we get to choose to move forward or suffer.

  1. Don’t “awfulize or over dramatize.”

Real life is dramatic enough. Stay right there! It is easy to think about all the awful things that are or could happen and to talk about what is happening more like we are gossiping about ourselves than truly reaching for support to process our experience and feelings about it. Be honest about how you feel. Good, bad or ugly. Our mind can easily add drama that is story about our experience vs. being grounded in what is truly happening to us and we can awfulize what might happen; both create unnecessary suffering and keep us from working with what IS.

  1. Stay present in the moment.

Calling yourself back to the present and assessing how You are in the moment you are in can not only quiet the mind’s panic but also give you space to reconnect with your wisdom.

Notice your breath and how it is coming in to and leaving your body. Put your hands on your heart space and feel YOU as YOU breath. Step outside and feel yourself as part of that environment. Notice the weather, how it feels, what you are standing on, how do your feet feel in your shoes? Getting yourself present helps quiet your mind and give you the opportunity to make thoughtful choices on what comes next.

  1. Connect

There are many reasons why we isolate when we are struggling or experiencing life pain. Whatever the reason, be aware of it and know that it is NOT in your best interest no matter what your “story” is. We are hard wired to connect, our happiness depends upon it. We are social mammals. Reach out and share your experience with someone close to you. If you don’t feel like you have someone, get a coach or see a counselor. Period! Loneliness and isolation lead to suffering and psychological patterns that are very damaging to you.

When we are hit with a hard life experience and we isolate from others, as well as our own feelings about the experience, we hurt our ability to find traction for moving through the experience in a healthful way. We also shut out the very people who really want to support us. Our lifeblood!

  1. Lean In

If you have to lean away for a bit until you catch your breath, OK. Don’t stay there. If you have been stuck there for awhile, it is never too late to Lean In to the experience, your emotion, your process, your friends and family. Love yourself through whatever it is by stepping toward life. What might seem horrible today may in the long run turn out to be just what we need to help us to evolve into the next chapter of our life. If we can learn to lean into change rather than resist it, we’ll find the possibility inherent in a situation.

5. Change something.

I am all about neural patterns. Our brain is phenomenal and it can work with and for us or it can work against us.  I am always curious about how mine are working in support of the woman I want to be in the world and the ones that are stuck around old stories, beliefs, behaviors, and reactions.

Sometimes suffering comes about because we’ve ground ourselves down from travelling well worn survival neural patterns that are no longer relevant, but no less powerful to influence our lives. We obsess over our loss/situation/challenge/behavior and can’t seem to think of anything else (ruminating is a big red flag for you to notice)…all the while making those unhealthy neural patterns stronger.

At times like these, it helps to give our psyche and soul a leg up. Start by doing something we wouldn’t normally do. STOP! Reframe towards gratitude! This is the start of a new neural pattern. It could be choosing one of the ideas above or something totally different. Bottom line: don’t keep doing what you are doing, thinking, believing or reacting to if what you are doing isn’t inherently connected to bringing you closer to expressing your authentic voice and the people and experiences that you love.

“If we are willing to take an unbiased look, we will find that, in spite of all our problems and confusion, all our emotional and psychological ups and downs, there is something basically good about our existence as human beings.” Tibetan Buddhist teacher Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche

“The world is full of suffering. It is also full of overcoming it.” ~Helen Keller

Love and Blessings,

Drea

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