When is suffering productive?

One of my favorite tweeters recently sent out a provocative little note about knowing the difference between harmful suffering and that which is part of the growth process. What’s his secret? I don’t know. He’s being awfully tight-lipped about it </joke>, but I have my own answer! I have so many answers, actually, coming out of retreat, but I’m still trying to figure out how to order it all in some form of linear language. Here is what I’ve learned—for myself, at least—about suffering:

If I find myself suffering in the usual places I get stuck with guilt, shame, or any other yucky feelings, it’s harmful. That’s the type of suffering that keeps me small.

But if suffering results from a conscious decision to take myself out of harm’s way by taking a step toward what I know deep inside is my highest path, I sit with it. I sit with it because I know that the pain and fear are simply products of my monkey mind freaking out upon finding itself outside its usual haunts. Those familiar places of fear, guilt, shame, etc. may be godawful, but they sure are comfortable…in a certain fashion. Stepping into the unknown can be exhilarating, but there’s always an element of uncertainty or discomfort. And I’ve learned that when I take on the big, heavy stuff, it’s profoundly terrifying.

The good news is that all those articles that tell you it’s better on the other side are totally right. It’s one of those lessons that you can understand intellectually, but can’t possibly sink in until you’ve lived through it. (Sidebar: I must have watched When Harry Met Sally dozens of times in high school, but when I saw it again in college after my first encounter with heartbreak, I watched it at a completely different level.)

Doing shadow work is not for the faint of heart. It will break you open and leave you raw. But that is how you get to relief, by surrendering completely to the darkness. And after you’ve wailed and gnashed your teeth and cursed the heavens for placing you in your own little personal hell, you know what happens? The energy shifts. The energy shifts, and you arrive at a state of grace. 

Sure, your new skin is so tender that you would be reduced to tears once more at the slightest touch. Be extra, extra gentle with yourself at this time. Reach out to someone you love and trust with your life, and then acceptthat person’s comfort. Make yourself a cup of tea and wrap yourself in a soft blanket. Get a good night’s sleep. You’ll feel like an entirely different person in the morning. I promise.

Written By Ysette Guevara, Ph.D.

When is suffering productive? was originally published @ Minds On Fire » Blog and has been syndicated with permission.


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