Sometimes it is hard to know the difference between suffering and growing. Many questions and feelings flood through our system. “Does this hurt because I am feeling myself release an old pattern?”, “Am I just stuck in a negative emotion?” Or this is the wrong job/relationship/situation for me?
How do we know the difference?
One of my favorite spiritual teachers, Eckhart Tolle, uses a term in his teachings: “conscious suffering”. When I first heard this, I remember thinking, “Why would I consciously suffer? That’s just silly”. It turns out, I was suffering unconsciously, which meant: not being aware of my egoic patterns. I can see that now looking back. The pain levels were way too big for the lesson. We could say it was my resistance. Sure. But it might also be because I had allowed my consciousness to become hypnotized by the pain. Regardless, I find consious suffering to be a better alternative- when I can choose it, that is.
Becoming entangled from a wave of suffering
The pain is there for a reason. It has a message and a gift. Being open to its message will reveal places in ourselves that we have not learned to love yet. Unconscious pain is suffering if we just sit in it. The pain becomes conscious and reveals its wisdom when we accept it while keeping the curiosity window open.
Conscious suffering (growing through the pain) depends on four factors:
1) Our ability to activate The Observer in us. The Observer is the part of us that can see us sitting in a chair and reading a book – as if from above. Being an Observer is very different than being the Judge. An Observer is like a news reporter, simply delivering the facts. (This ties in with #4).
2) Our awareness of the patterns that get triggered. This basically means catching them, even if we can’t interrupt them yet. (“Oops, I did it again”).
3) Our willingness to see the big picture. (“Hmm. Why could I be having this experience? What am I supposed to learn here?”). This cracks the door open for wisdom and inner guidance to come through.
4) Having compassion for ourselves for where we are in our process of becoming. (“Yes, I did it again but I choose to be patient with myself. I can honor being a student”).
We can see our pain as a gateway to higher consciousness or use it to strengthen a story we innocently came to believe as who we are. We do have choice. By deciding to stay aware and curious, we give ourselves the option of not getting fully sucked into the story. We then give ourselves an opportunity to see how much bigger our life is than the story we have been so attached to. This where suffering becomes conscious. This is when we take the first step towards becoming a conscious co-creator of our own destiny.
I notice that when I am growing, it feels like a soul workout. I imagine that I am producing soul sweat and building some spiritual wisdom muscle. I don’t feel lost in the pain nor am I ungulfed by it. I can feel it, yes. I also am aware that an old pattern that has overstayed its welcome is kicking and screaming while it is leaving my energy field.
“Suffering consciously is when you feel, sense and accept the suffering. It is not suffering anymore it is just pain. To be suffering you must have an unhappy me with a story and the world that is doing it to me.” ~ Eckhart Tolle