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  • Maura McCarley Torkildson

Reframing Suffering


My attention has been on suffering and resilience of late. Like it or not, there is a strain in our cultural belief system about suffering which says that in suffering you are getting what you deserve. It shows up in many subtle and not so subtle ways - from the way that people talk about karma, to laws like Three Strikes You Are Out. These paint suffering in the perspective of punishment rather than growth and solutions. I have noticed in myself and my clients that there is a way in which we internalize our suffering and find ourselves wrong. I personally experience this everyday as I look at my business and wonder why it is not where I want it to be yet, or compare myself negatively to others. What am I doing wrong? is the question that arises and can quickly devolve into What’s wrong with me? Ultimately this thought pattern does not serve me. It’s so demotivating! When I get to what’s wrong with me? this is where I stop learning and start a pity party.Because I see the damage this thought pattern does to our sense of self-worth and ability to be self-compassionate, it makes me want to reframe suffering. What if suffering is about learning and not about punishment? Yes, there are consequences to actions. If you commit a crime, then there are debts to be paid. Remorse, which is all about having compassion for the suffering that you may have caused, is also about learning. And in learning we find hope for redemption and renewal – the manna for our human hearts and souls.

What if we accepted that suffering is part of being human and does not mean we are bad or wrong? Acceptance is ultimately healthier than judgment. But, we can be curious about our suffering and learn from it. Curiosity allows room for self-acceptance and learning, whereas judgment makes us feel bad and wrong. I included curiosity as one of the Tools 4 Transformation because curiosity transcends judgment and opens us up for learning rather than locking us into a cycle of shame and destruction. Suffering is uncomfortable, but it does not have to be destructive to our sense of self-worth.. Resilience comes from self-love. Being able to love oneself through thick and thin; loving ourselves because of who we are and not because of what we do creates space for learning from our suffering and douses the destructive power that shame fuels in our souls. What I know is that it is the human part of my clients that I love the most. I appreciate their potential, I applaud their bigness, but it is the tender seed of humanness that calls forth the love inside me. Not one of them deserves the suffering they experience from time to time. But I accept that they suffer, love them for it, and it is often the struggle which brings forth their brilliance like a phoenix rising from the ashes.


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