Suffering is part of life.
Let me be kind to myself in this moment.
Let me give myself the compassion I need.
I’ve lifted these words from Kristin Neff, the author of the book I currently have my nose firmly buried in (Self-Compassion by Kritsin Neff). I’ve spoken these words to myself a thousand times in recent days. Life has thrown us a curve ball – as yet it’s unclear how significant a curve ball it is. But it’s unwelcome, uncertain and has knocked me off balance for sure.
This book has so far been awesome in its timeliness. Awesome in the comfort it’s brought me in a time that could easily have been fraught with tension, terror and dark thoughts. Happily this book has found its way into my Kindle app, and has helped me breathe through this unfolding experience, even accept it in all its imperfect unwanted-ness.
Suffering is part of life. Once upon a time, I might have moved away from this statement. Seen it as negative, frightening, and something I wanted to avoid. Suffering suggests something painful and hideous. And the idea of its inevitability would have been repellent to me.
These days, that statement looks and feels like hope. Neff (and, I believe, the whole self-compassion movement) emphasises the fact that we do all, indeed, suffer. No one is exempt. It’s part of the human condition. It’s not all that we do, but it is absolutely part of what we do, just by nature of being alive. It’s going to happen to us. It has happened to us. It will happen to us. And when, like me, you’re in the middle of something tough, that’s a pretty darn comforting reality.
Not because I want to drag anyone down with me, you understand. But just because that’s how it is. Because it encourages me to think beyond my current suffering, to remember the other times I’ve suffered. And those I know who have suffered. And you know what, we’ve all survived it. We may have emerged with scars, altered indelibly, but we’ve made it. It’s what humans do. And when I remember that I am suffering in company (not necessarily for the same reasons or even in the same way) it’s a soothing tonic.
And in no way does any of this take away my pain. In no way does this anaesthetise me, or block anything, epidural-style, out. In fact, the mindfulness Neff describes in the book, encourages me to stop and accept my pain, to feel it fully, listen to it, and like labour pain, breathe through it in the knowledge that, however unbearable, it will indeed pass, and may even be productive.
Neff likens our awareness to the sky, and our ever shifting, soaring and plunging emotions to a bird flying in that sky. She encourages us to pay attention to the way in which our thoughts and emotions come and go, rise and fall and reappear all over again. It’s not something I’ve done before, but I like the way it feels. I like the way it offers me a sense of perspective, a sense of acceptance rather than resistance. It doesn’t make me suffer less, it doesn’t take the sting out of the pain, or the stomach churning out of the fear, but it does enable me to look it in the eye, to keep breathing as I do this, to trust that the moment is going to pass. And pass it does. Time and time again.
So, friends, if I’ve taken one thing from the book I’ve started (and not even finished yet) – when the going gets tough, whatever that may look like, pause. Breathe. Acknowledge your moment of suffering. Be kind to yourself as you do it. Be your own best friend in that moment. The one who is kind and sympathetic, who soothes and nurtures you when you’re vulnerable.
Listen to your suffering. Feel it, absolutely. But also observe it. And definitely don’t judge it. It’s a moment. It will pass. Sure, there will be more to come, but like the one that went before it, it too will also be a moment.
And just remember. We all suffer. Not a single one of us can dodge this.
But I am not alone, and neither are you.