At 25, I was a hot mess. Confused, depressed, reckless. By then I’d completed an undergraduate degree in Psychology, but for a variety of reasons wasn’t yet working steady. It was a dark period. The despair was real. There was no clarity of mind. Just a lot of dukha*, which, in a broad sense, the ancients refer to as suffering. The drinking didn’t help either.
Moving through this condition of mind was no easy feat. Everything felt dark and heavy, like all of my energy channels were blocked.
Yet it’s not uncommon.
Women who come to see me for psychotherapy are often in this place.
On occasion, I’d share a personal story in session. It’s a story from the time when I was entrenched in dukha.
It happened long before I became a therapist.
I came to a metaphorical fork in the road of my own inner journey, when I couldn’t navigate my inner world very effectively – or the world around me for that matter.
I remember sitting on my old clunky sofa in an unglamorous apartment in a working-class neighbourhood, completely lost in thought, when a moment of clarity emerged.
In my mind, I could see two paths in front of me: one that led further into a bleak, dark blur, and the other, which, while still dark and blurry, held a very faint glimmer of light in the distance.
I could hear what sounded like a voice in my head, whispering, “Take the road with the most light.”
Now I didn’t have a clue in that moment what it really meant to do such a thing. But I summoned the courage from deep within anyway, and attempted to turn my life in the direction of what I perceived to be the path with the most light, and headed toward it.
In a blink of an eye, I realized:
I would be suffering on purpose.
I would be applying a homeopathic** remedy of sorts to my existing suffering.
It meant suffering with the conscious awareness of it, and in so doing, soften it, dissolve it; which allowed me to grow forward in the direction of that faint glimmer of light, and the life that was waiting for me there. A life with much less suffering to endure, and much more joy to delight in.
It was the emergence of the conscious awareness of my suffering that happened on that old sofa so long ago.
Through a process of taking a leap of faith on Life itself and turning in a new direction, that over time, brought me to a place of clarity and spaciousness of mind.
If any of this resonates with you at all, this can be true for you too.
Suffering on purpose is like homeopathy for the soul. It’s the much needed antidote to endless inner pain.
The question is how to do it.
Here are a few insights for your consideration:
Resist the temptation to distract yourself from painful present moment experience. Distraction comes in many different forms like food, wine, gossip, shopping, TV, YouTube. What’s your favorite form of distraction? I think YouTube-ing is mine at the moment.
Acknowledge the pain. Allow yourself to feel it as it is. For some of us, just the thought of doing that is too much to bear. If this is true for you, consider finding a therapist to walk with you through this season. There are some things in life that are best not done alone. This is one of them.
Cultivate a regular reflective practice if you don’t have one already. It could be through meditation, for example, or Yoga. This practice will not only heighten your awareness of yourself, but also show you how to be present to all of you in a gentle, compassionate way.
There are many ways to clear your energy pathways: eating good food your body enjoys, spending time in the sunlight, practicing Yoga, unplugging from electronics, meditating, doing a body cleanse.
Start thinking about what ‘the light in the distance’ means to you. Then begin crafting a plan to get there.
At the end of the day, one thing is clear: We suffer if we turn toward our ‘light’, and we suffer if we don’t.
*Suffering that results from change in some form, either dissatisfaction with the past, an emotional response to what is happening in the present, or an anxiety about the future. It implies the constant flux of the mind. Embodying the Yoga Sutra: Support, Direction, Space. D. Charlton, R. Roy. 2019
**Homeopathy: an alternative medicine based on the theory of treating ‘like with like’. https://www.betterhealth.vic.gov.au/health/conditionsandtreatments/homeopathy
Where do you find yourself on your own inner journey? Which path are you on? Have you turned toward your light?
Good article. Thank you. Sometimes the more we try to avoid suffering, the more it seems to linger. I like these suggestions. It might not be easy, but hopefully an effective way to push through tough events, or times…in our lives.
Happy to hear you enjoyed the article, Bella. And you’re right, the more we try to avoid it, the more it lingers. It’s not easy as you say, but there comes a time when all the hard work pays off. I find solace in knowing I can turn toward my suffering in my own way and in my own time.