A Letter for Those Who Are Suffering

Given that suffering is something that will surely be a part of our lives, perhaps it would behoove us all to learn to accept it, and going beyond that, even come to appreciate it?
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Aspen trees changing colors in the fall
Aspen trees changing colors in the fall

My dear friend,

Suffering is the only constant.

You might be tempted to stop reading, right here. I ask for help with my problem, you mutter to yourself, and this so-called friend of mine is telling me that suffering is inevitable?

I want you to know that suffering is inevitable, because this knowledge is so critical to your happiness. We are all going to experience pain, sadness and heartbreak here. Some of us try to run away from this experience. Some of us try to control our exposure, guarding our squishy inner selves so that no one can possibly come near. Some of us refuse to even acknowledge suffering. I have been all of these people, so I know what happens when we deny suffering's determined existence -- we simply suffer more.

Imagine that the only food left in the whole world is watermelon. You don't like watermelon very much. What do you do? If you were wise, you might try to learn to like watermelon as best you could. You might notice that it is far better to appreciate what you have, rather than bemoan what you do not have. Maybe, after a while, you might even notice a few nice things about the watermelon, like the way it quenches your thirst on a hot day.

Given that suffering is something that will surely be a part of our lives, perhaps it would behoove us all to learn to accept it, and going beyond that, even come to appreciate it?

This idea might strike you as so bleak. I can hear you now, telling me that you really don't like watermelon and you would much rather have blueberries instead, thank you very much. I get it, and in my moments of suffering, I feel the exact same way. But we don't get to choose what happens to us.

When we look at suffering under the right conditions (open mind, soft lighting, next to someone we love, maybe with a cup of tea in hand), we might notice that if it is truly a constant, then there might also be another constant that has sneakily hopped aboard for the ride: the ability to choose how we face, and even transcend, our suffering.

It is a terrible thing to waste a crisis. And this, right now, is a crisis for you. I see your pain. My heart aches for you.

We don't want to waste crises because they are the moments that define who we are. Think back to the last experience that was life-changing, that helped you to grow, that made you into the person you are proud to be today. Was it an easy moment or a hard one?

The easy moments are very important. They allow us to cultivate what we need so that we can take action when the hard moments arise. Your capability, your intelligence, your bravery, your kindness, your humor, your spirit and your relationships -- these are all of the things that grow in good weather, and what you have harvested will now help you to survive the winter.

Think about what you have created in a world that only guarantees suffering: You have fashioned a beautiful life, unearthed a beautiful self. You have found meaning in the face of constant uncertainty. Is that not something that requires enormous amounts of courage and resilience?

Do you know how powerful you are, to envision a world filled with beautiful experiences, to develop the resources you need to doggedly pursue it, and the strength to get back up again when you fall?

You are so powerful, but you don't know it yet.

This challenge is asking you to prove to yourself that you are powerful. It is here to tell you that you have successfully mastered the current phase of your life, and it is now time to try your strength in a new venue. Your suffering alchemizes into growth, if you run hard and fast and strong with it. Challenges are the catalysts for courage.

You are worthy of this challenge.

No one in your life will be able to tell you what is going to happen. In the face of suffering, it strikes me that perhaps the only true and lasting comfort can come from the way that we choose to respond to the situation. No matter what happens, you can hold on to the way that you chose to use this moment as a platform for growth and learning and compassion.

I can promise you that you will get through this and come out the other side. As someone who loves you, I will be there every step of the way to hold your hand, to ask you questions, or just to listen to you talk through your feelings.

Take all the time that you need to embrace the suffering. Know that you have been quietly building all the resources that you need to embrace this moment for the opportunity it is. Aggressively, as if your life depends on it, seek out what is good in this moment or in your life. Express your gratitude for those good things.

Connect the suffering to your "why," a bigger purpose. What is this moment teaching you? What have you learned from previous challenges? Remember that you got through those, too.

Do one tiny positive thing in the next 30 minutes -- go for a walk, find a way to laugh, admire the way the light is setting on the brick townhouses outside. Notice how it creates a tiny positive shift within you. Dare to be hopeful.

Be kind to yourself. Recognize that you have reached a new place in your life that requires a different way of being. It takes a little while to adjust. If you're really feeling brave, start to experiment with the idea that somewhere within you, there is enough love to conquer this challenge and rise above it.

I believe in you.

Your friend

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