My mother is living with me now. She moved out here so she wouldn’t be living alone as she navigates a time in her life when her health is not so good. Right now she’s physically uncomfortable and this morning she said to me, in reference to the pain she felt, “It’s okay–I can offer this up.” That comment shocked me like a glass of cold water in my face, splashing me back to my Catholic upbringing and all the teachings that promoted self-sacrifice and the value of suffering in this “vale of sorrows” called life.
Then I received an email from a client who realized she’d been putting up with a situation that was no longer working for her because she didn’t want to hurt the feelings of the other woman involved and had told herself to just be quiet and put up with it. Luckily, my client had felt the cold water on her own face and woken up from this trance. She said, “After talking with you about how I learned to suffer for others, I awoke this morning and realized changing this situation was my first step in taking care of myself.”
I was reflecting on this and thought about how easily we update our wardrobes when something no longer fits us, goes out of style, or we just don’t like it anymore. Maybe if we treated our beliefs more like fashion, we could change them a bit more easily.
The idea that you are benefiting somebody else by suffering is an outdated idea, a monastic robe of medieval vintage. Time to get this one out of your closet. Of course you are free to embrace any spiritual ideas you like. So if suffering makes sense to you and makes you happy in a twisted sense, then go for it. But the God I believe in is the energy of love. Love doesn’t hurt others, does not delight in causing suffering. I don’t believe that choosing to suffer is a spiritual move. Certainly we will all suffer, as the Buddha pointed out, but we can leave that to being a last resort and in the meantime speak up where this is called for to end unnecessary suffering.
I believe pain happens frequently, but suffering is more optional. It is correlated to the story we tell ourselves about what is happening to us. and why it is happening. Often, simply by changing the story you can eliminate the suffering.
Another client was frightened by a diagnosis with her throat. The story she was telling herself was that she was probably dying. While none of us is really privy to that information, it was definitely was not a certainty that she was dying. I suggested she consider the throat the receptacle of trapped messages and emotions that she had been unwilling to express (mainly for fear of hurting others). This story created curiosity and hope instead of fear and suffering. In the end, only time will tell what is going on with her throat, but given the choice of a story that causes suffering and one that causes peace and curiosity, I vote for the latter!
What stories are you telling yourself? Are you suffering unnecessarily? If you are, perhaps you can change the story, act on your own behalf, and find some peace in your life.