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?