I recently started going through the archives of Back to Work from the very first episode and jotting down key takeaways and general notes from my listening sessions. In episode 3, there was a line that strongly stood out to me:
It is possible to feel pain without suffering.
Beginning to letting go of imperviousness and practicing true strength and resilience has been a little difficult. As Merlin and Dan discussed in the show, we associate suffering with pain when in reality they are separate, albeit closely related. Having to endure pain, whether physical, mental, or emotional, can create a state of suffering but doesn’t need to. The poignancy of the statement was impactful itself, but became even moreso when my brain synthesized it with one of my mentally bookmarked posts from my reads on Zen Habits. Leo Babauta wrote suffering to be a miasma that “causes you to be unhappy, to be stressed, to procrastinate, to be distracted, to be angry with people, to be dissatisfied with your life, to be overweight and unhealthy, to not exercise or eat healthy, and much more.”
Prior to that moment, I would have described myself as suffering-free after all the time I spending all that time wrestling with myself over the fairly recent past and no longer dealing with that old familiar internal turmoil. Yet those subtler manifestations of suffering have still been something I’ve been constantly having to stave off. Melancholy and misery no longer pervade my day-to-day life, but the suffering apparently still does.
Leo also writes that the antidote for those forms of suffering is to practice self compassion — which is the complete opposite form of self-motivation that I’ve been utilizing. My internal monologue is less self-compassionate and far more critical and berating. Shutting down and letting go left me coaching myself like a drill sergeant. It’s sufficient, but also an incomplete and far from ideal solution.
The pains of the past are something that I’ve accepted is something I’ll never be rid of, at least not until the technology in Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind becomes a real thing. No one can ever be completely free of the most unpleasant parts of their past — memory is a double-edged sword like that sometimes. The thing that we are capable of moving past is the suffering those pains can induce. The full emotional shut-down of the past few years hasn’t been eliminated my own suffering entirely…and now that allowing feelings has become an option again, that self-compassion one of should one of first ones to get closely reacquainted with.