My heart was so full of joy this week, there wasn’t much room for anger. Oh, there were plenty of things that went wrong—torrential downpours that left me drenched for hours, missed buses which required waiting 20 minutes for the next one. But I was able to shrug my shoulders after each incident and move on, saying to myself “O well, there’s nothing you can do about it.”
“… physical, emotional, and mental pain are inevitable in life. Suffering is another matter. Suffering is the personalization we bring to our difficulties.” Judith Lasater, Living Your Yoga: Finding the Spiritual in Everyday Life
My lupus and the symptoms it brings are pain. Beyond the literal pain in my joints, I also have to take lots of medicine, visit with doctors, adjust my normal activities, sometimes miss time from work, and deal with organs that do not function as they should. I am often so fatigued, especially when the disease is at its worst, that I don’t have the energy to spend time doing life’s enjoyable things, like visiting with friends. That’s pain. It’s uncomfortable and unpleasant.
Suffering occurs when I obsess about my disease, when I worry about the future, when I get anxious about how bad the symptoms are. Suffering occurs when I personalize the pain I am experiencing with thoughts like, “Why is this happening to me? It isn’t fair.” Or “Oh, no, my kidneys are failing. This is the worst thing ever!” By personalizing the pain, and making it seem like a catastrophe, suffering ensues.
The Yoga Sutras and Bible both teach about the inevitability of pain, difficulty, and hardship. They also both provide clues for how to manage the challenges without making them worse by suffering.
“Ignorance is regarding the impermanent as permanent, the impure as pure, the painful as pleasant, and the non-Self as the Self.” Yoga Sutras 2:5
In our ignorance, we suffer needlessly. We think a temporary situation in life will last forever, which makes the present circumstance that much more difficult. We lose sight of the Divine that is working in our lives, often allowing the pain on a temporary basis to bring about a more lasting and positive transformation. We don’t realize that this painful step is a part of a beautiful process of reflecting the Divine in greater ways.
“I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” John 16:33
Throughout the week, I resisted the tendency for suffering by meditating on a simple concept borrowed from Judith Lasater's book:
“Life may be difficult, but I do not need to suffer.”
I’m going to go through hard times. Things are going to happen that are painful and difficult, and that’s okay. I will survive. They are temporary, and often they result in a future that is even better than the present. If I let go of my expectations for the present and future, and if I allow things to unfold, I will discover in due time that there is beauty in the pain. It doesn’t have to feel worse by leading into suffering. In fact, one day’s pain often creates something much more wonderful than what was there previously. Pain is good; suffering is not. Embrace the pain; reject suffering.
Crystal Moore began her wellness quest in 2003 after being diagnosed with lupus. Her quest has led her to embrace yoga, faith, exercise, healthy eating, and relationships. Share her journey.