“The most beautiful people we have known are those who have known defeat, known suffering, known struggle, known loss, and have found their way out of those depths.” — Elisabeth Kubler-Ross
How do you change your circumstances when lying face down in the gutter? Can a person recover from despair and overcome their pain and suffering? Pain is menacing and grows in intensity vowing to never leave you. Sure, there are moments of respite, though it never leaves. Not in the way you want it to. That’s what sadness is like — despair interwoven with glimpses of elation. How do we transcend the pain? Are we meant to overcome or endure it? Does the person who endures the most prevail? So many questions, yet the answers are few. Life is a one way conversation with a universe that speaks but doesn’t listen. She yells in a bellowing roar as we retreat into the sanctuary of our mind. Struggle is an oppressive adversary, like a boa constrictor enveloping you, pausing momentarily – and then smothering you again. Can you relate to this feeling? We mustn’t be defined by our suffering, that’s not who we are, nor whom we intend to be. I recall a time when struggle and pain meant grazing my knee at soccer practice. The wounds eventually healed, and I was left with a faint scare to mark my fall. Nowadays, pain lasts longer than a grazed knee. It is like being chased in a terrifying dream that never ends, stuck in an endless loop. In such moments, we are characterised by our struggle and assume the identity of the wounded victim. We have no choice because life thwarts us every time we try to rise.
But here’s what I found to be the antidote to suffering: We are pushed to grow in the moments, days and weeks that follow the despair. For some, it might be years, dare I say decades for the growth to be realised. I wish I could mend your pain in the way my mother took care of my grazed knee. But sometimes we must go it alone. For it was Winston Churchill who once said: “If you’re going through hell, keep going.” He knew pain and suffering ultimately recedes to give way to inner growth. Wishing away the pain does nothing to cultivate grit and strength of character. The gentlest souls are those who have endured the greatest hardships and gained a humility for life. I’m drawn to the passage by the American motivational author Brendon Burchard who writes in The Motivation Manifesto: “Let us never look hardship in the face and run. To do so is to tear ourselves from this world and this time, and to relinquish our growth and contributions in life. Let us always remember that in addressing our pain and fear, we gain mastery over them.” We are a small cog in a wheel forever expanding and contracting. I’m reminded of a quote by the Buddha who said: “Pain is inevitable, suffering is optional.” So, are you allowing life’s pain and struggle to define you or using it to grow and expand? Remember, the universe favours expansion. Everything taking place in your life right now is leading to the unfolding of your life’s narrative. You can recoil from it or lean into it. Suffering is the seed life plants in you to reveal your greatest potential, so you may come to know your authentic self.