Despite facing a variety of painful obstacles and difficulties in life, people are often hesitant to describe their experiences as "suffering." It's typically a word reserved for the most extreme tragedies -- war, poverty, death -- but American-born Tibetan Buddhist nun Pema Chödrön says that each of us knows what it is like to suffer.
Spiritually, Chödrön uses this word to describe times that are disruptive, that give us anxiety or despair, as she explains to Oprah on an episode of "Super Soul Sunday." It can be anything from the loss of a job to a family conflict, but the common thread is clear: "Suffering" refers to anything unwanted that makes you uncomfortable.
"In another way, it's sometimes translated as 'discontent,'" Chödrön tells Oprah in the above video.
So how can we best deal with our discontent, or suffering? Chödrön says that we must first accept that what has happened has really happened, and not resist it or push it away. Then, she says, practice this simple visualization exercise.
"You breathe it in," Chödrön says. "It's as if you breathe it into your heart and your heart just gets bigger and bigger. Every time you breathe in, the heart gets bigger and bigger, so that no matter how bad it feels, you just give it more space. So when you breathe in, you're open to it, I guess you could say. And then when you breathe out, you just send out a lot of space."
This exercise opens you up emotionally and spiritually, but can also initiate what feels like a physical change as well.
"Sometimes I say, 'What does your heart feel like?' People will say, 'It feels like a rock.' What does your stomach feel like? 'It feels like a knot. It's as if my whole body was clenched... because I'm so miserable,'" Chödrön says. "So, breathe in and let that heart open. Let the stomach open."
Do six deep in-breaths, she suggests. It's a practice that Chödrön calls "compassionate abiding," and with it comes an enlightened view of the world's connectivity: You are not alone.
"When you breathe in, you can recognize that all over the world -- right now and in the past and in the future -- people are going to feel exactly what you're feeling now. A feeling of being rejected. The feeling of being unloved. The feeling of insecurity. The feeling of fear. Rage." Chödrön says. "Human beings have always felt this and always will. And so you breathe in for everyone that they could welcome it, that they could say, 'I haven't done anything wrong.' Embrace it."
More: In this video, Chödrön warns what can happen when people choose not to embrace their discomfort.
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