From Suffering to Grace

Early in my practice, people told me I should choose one area of medicine to specialize in, but I was resistant to it because of the lack of variety. Also, it seemed that the natural specialization for me would be pain since I have a knack for treating it, and that sounded, well, kind of boring. 

But I gradually began focusing in that direction, and over the years my understanding of pain broadened. I became interested in the whole human experience of suffering, which was like finding a loophole because it’s a pretty vast spectrum.

Suffering is fascinating. 

As much as humans hate suffering, we have a curiously complicated relationship with it. We watch movies and read books about it for entertainment. We ache when we see others suffer, but we kind of like the ache. We try it out intentionally (ghost peppers anyone?) and we’re compelled to learn the graphic details of a tragedy just so we can feel it more richly. Often we simultaneously generate it and resist it. And sometimes, we turn it into an incredible, life-changing blessing. 

To an extent, it seems that when good outcomes happen after a period of suffering, it’s evidence of healthy adaptive mechanisms that help us make the best of a bad situation. But occasionally the suffering appears to be a kind of magic ingredient that provokes an evolution (or a revolution) that wouldn’t have otherwise occurred. 

Few people would ask to suffer, but studies show that when they look back on how suffering ultimately facilitated a great favorable change, most say they wouldn’t change anything. 

Well, maybe one thing. 

If only they could have trusted, they reflect, it could have been a different experience. 

On top of the discomfort of suffering we often add an additional dimension of discomfort in the form of resistance (which is often triggered by fear). When the resistance stops – because we just can’t keep it up any longer, or through a conscious choice to trust and relinquish the resistance – this is when something else enters the equation. What do you call it? Grace? Clarity? Insight? And the suffering becomes a portal to a new way of being. 

Today, when you encounter some suffering – maybe it will just be a little micro-suffering – what happens if you don’t resist it? What happens when you say, “I choose to trust” and dive into it?

I’d love to hear your thoughts on this (in the comments section below). Have you had experience where suffering facilitated something good? What was the pivotal point, when it turned from suffering into grace? Did that change your relationship with suffering? Do you trust more? Why or why not?



15 thoughts on “From Suffering to Grace

  1. This really resonates with me at the moment. My father passed away a couple months ago from covid complications but also (surprisingly) left me quite a bit of money with express directions to use it to heal others. I’m finding myself less forgiving/enabling of my husband’s bad habits and am rest pushing my family to be healthy, physically and mentally. It is all still playing out and I am trying to approach each day with grace and curiosity. And you’re right: with all the hardships I faced before, I wouldn’t change it, just give myself a little more love and patience in the process.

    1. Thanks for sharing, Christiana. I’m sorry to hear about your father’s death, but it’s good to hear about the changes it has provoked. It sounds like the result will be a lasting positive impact on you and your family, and your openness to the process is instrumental in that.

  2. There have been a few times when I have been in intense fear — almost survival fear — and when I finally let go and surrendered and asked the Universe for help — it came immediately. Sometimes miraculously it seemed. I am talking concrete things like money or housing or a job. But I am unable to do this with “micro-suffering”. Then some lingering work ethic kicks in and I cannot let go. I feel its entirely up to me to solve the issue and I just have to work harder. Thanks for this discussion — I hope to hear more about others’ experiences.

    1. Thanks Jane. I’ve experienced and witnessed similar miracles. And, yes, the tricky micro-suffering. I speak a bit to this idea in the article that’s coming out next. It’s like the low level suffering isn’t bad enough to trigger a breakthrough because we’re willing to tolerate/suppress it. I think the opportunity is there, though, regardless of magnitude.

      1. Yes I like this perspective. I am going to try to be more open to allowing the grace to come through even when I’m not suffering terribly. It takes a certain humility! To say yes I need help even with this small problem!

  3. I have ptsd and in my course of healing I’ve had people ask me why I hold on to the pain? I’m working through that but it is real. Pain is one thing I’ve always been able to trust. It’s always available and always there. I’m learning and growing and trying to be able to let go of that. Thank you for your insight. Thank you for The Well Life… I’m on my third time through it on audible and it has helped me more than the 3 years of thereapy I’ve been doing. Thank you!!!!!

    1. Thanks Carole. Yes, it’s fascinating how we can get attached to painful and dysfunctional aspects of life because of their familiarity and constancy. I would bet there’s something else that’s always been there, even more worthy of your trust than pain, and unlike pain it isn’t a signal that tells your system “something’s wrong!” Who has been there all along to notice the pain?
      I’m so glad The Well Life has been a positive influence in your life!
      Take care.

  4. Suffering has the power to wake me up and make a shift in my thinking so I look at it differently too.
    The opening to flow retreat made lasting impressions of changes I want to avoid pain.
    Pain avoidance is good when I am using it to remind myself to keep on with new habits and behaviors that don’t lead to pain (approaching relationships in love, eating right, doing yoga and journaling). I made a list of pain, and every time I remember what it cost me, and do the right things—there it is the GRACE to keep me doing the right things!
    Thank you both for having the insight and belief that the world needs this kind of thinking.

    1. Thanks, Dana. I’m glad you’ve had this tangible experience of Grace and hope you can start leaning into the ever-present support it represents. I passed on your kind words about the Flow retreat to Briana.
      Be well.

  5. Pain can be also a way of trauma bonding as it is familiar. Exhaustion and being depleted shorten the threshold to feel pain and make it easier to automatically engage in known familiar non healthy habits. I think gentleness with oneself, trust and hope might help the person suffering cross the bridge to his/her happy place where creativity, imagination and pursuing a dream can be achieved.

    1. Yes, Aida. It’s a powerful thing, pain. Rarely does a purely pleasant experience bond people so intensely.
      And I agree about the gentleness. Even our healing work and spiritual expansion can be infiltrated by egoic judgments, telling us it’s taking too long and we should be having a breakthrough by now, etc.
      Thank you for sharing,

  6. My boyfriend was killed by a drunk driver 30+ years ago when I was 17. It was the most profoundly affective moment in my life. I was raised in a chaotic and dysfunctional household. As a result of my entire life falling apart because of his death, I was forced to heal as a way to get through that loss. I went through therapy, reiki, t-touch and became a much stronger and healthier person. I am grateful to him for giving me that gift. I believe loss strengthens our humanity.

    1. Thanks Kelly. It’s amazing how we’d do anything to avoid falling apart, yet when given the opportunity to put our life back together we often make incredible upgrades.
      And it’s lovely how you wrote “loss strengthens our humanity.” Among the ways this is true, the one that strikes me now in autumn is that when there’s loss, we’re pushed to pay attention to what can’t be lost.
      Be well.

  7. How timely. I had an accident a few weeks ago, that caused plenty of physical pain, but also some emotional and spiritual pain. Just the weight of my own body coming down on my knee caused a laceration to the bone. I’ve been doing a ton of thinking, searching, along with therapy. I’ve been so embarrassed, in pain, ashamed… name it. I’m trying to figure out how I can use this experience to come out better. To make positive change in my life. I’m hopeful, but tentative.

    Thank you for writing this.

  8. Thanks, Peter. I have learned this anew in the past months. As you know, I struggled with hip pain for 5 years. In May it was so intense I could hardly walk. Moreover, it was hard to work or function, even using my skills. In June I decided to have a hip replacement. That was a moment of letting go. There was so much damage in the hip that there were complications. Recovery has been slow. I have even struggled with some strong depression. However, in the process I have come to a new clarity about myself and what I need to be doing in the world. It has been a tough season but I am thanksful. I am excited for what is ahead. Thanks to you and Brianna for your love and amazing tools.

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