Finding a way through suffering

Can anything help us when we suffer?

A very dear, lifelong friend died of bone cancer. It's a slow and painful disease, and in the end he was suffering in every moment. Even in his suffering, however, he reached for a higher consciousness, a change in his energy.

Not long before he died he told me that he'd had a bad day, but that I'd sent him a book many years ago that was helping him now. I was surprised – I'd long ago forgotten sending him the book. In it, he said, there's a question he now uses as the long moments of horrible pain stretch on.

The question he asked himself? “Can you endure it?”

The 3 worst ways to get through suffering

Instantly, I knew this was from the writings of Ajhan Chah. His way of helping others who came to him after tragedy or severe injury – anyone suffering from physical or mental anguish, was to simply ask, “Can you endure it?” It seems a strange thing to ask, doesn't it? But that question points one to the fact that the way beyond suffering is not to run away from it or to wallow in it, or to bear down and try to get through the suffering on will alone.

The way to get beyond suffering is to take each moment, knowing that no matter how painful things are in that moment, you can endure it. If we can hold steady in the midst of difficulty, if we can endure it, somehow that changes the experience, eases it, and we begin to let go of the suffering.

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I believe that we have teachers throughout our lives that help us endure pain. When I was 15 and had a big back operation, a kind nurse came into my room and taught me deep breathing. To this day, I remember her kindness. To this day, I use breath work to help ease physical or mental pain. In her own way, she was asking me to endure suffering one breath at a time.

The difference between preferences and suffering

We have great resiliency, even when we don't think we do. Sometimes we tell ourselves that we cannot endure what we simply do not like. Or that we can't endure something when really we fear it. When something requires us to change our daily life in a way that is unpleasant, or that we don't prefer it's not unbearable.

Sometimes, we resist tapping into our strength, preferring to be lost in complaining or telling our story of suffering over and over again. It's part of our own development to realize that tragedy happens, and anguish occurs. It's part of what happens sometimes inside the business we own. Sometimes it happens in life. Whenever it does, gently reminding ourselves about the impermanence of all things and our ability to endure can help.

One of Ajhan Chah's books that talks about suffering is Food for the Heart, which you can find on Amazon (that's my affiliate link).

Humans are resilient, even when we have gotten into the habit of telling ourselves that we are not. Now that my friend Gary is gone, I miss him terribly. Sometimes I cry from the pain of losing him. And then I remember him saying that he asked himself often in his final days, “Can you endure it?” Through my tears I know this is my question, too.

Bookcover - Food for the Heart by Ajahn Chah

Related article: What to do When Grief and Loss Overwhelm You

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