Befriending our Suffering

Individual Therapy Bethesda MD

I’ve been reading Thich Nhat Hanh’s book, No Mud No Lotus this week, and it’s given me a lot of insight into the concept of “suffering.” As a Buddhist monk, it is Hanh’s perspective that in order to experience beauty and growth we must go through suffering. In this book, he shares insight into ways to transform suffering, mostly centered on practices of mindfulness. I could also call suffering stress, dis-ease, struggle, and it’s something that I see in virtually all my clients at one time or another. Often, it’s not what we are actually going through, but it’s the way we feel about it, or the way we struggle against it, or the way we think we should feel about it that causes us distress. Rather than be mindful of what is making us suffer and what we can do about it, we can get caught up in our suffering, sometimes leading us to feel hopeless.

At times, it feels to me as if this is by design in our Western, busy, instantly connected world. We have instant distractions all around us. The world that many of us live in not only encourages busy-ness, but sometimes demands it. Maybe your job demands 24-hour email access, maybe you feel like you don’t have a moment to spare in your day. We can easily get swept up in a cycle of always being on, constantly being plugged in, busy. Many people come into my office when they’ve had enough of this, have gotten to a point that makes them say, “how did I get here?”

All of a sudden, we are faced with immense suffering, and it sometimes hits us like a ton of bricks. We often try to avoid, try to forget or downplay this suffering (again, super easy in today’s world- hello social media and Netflix!). What Thich Nhat Hanh suggests, however, is that we must embrace our suffering in order to move past it. It is essential to acknowledge and to greet suffering with self-compassion. It is at this point that we can begin to understand our suffering and begin to see it for what it is. Often we magnify our suffering by dwelling on something difficult and create a reality much worse in our heads than the one in front of us.

We all have a load to carry with us through life and some days it feels much heavier than others. Something important to realize, however, is that we often have the power to let go of some of the things weighing us down. Choosing to let go of a small annoyance, like someone cutting you off in traffic, can bring some peace in a busy world. Similarly, we can choose to give attention to and fuel energy into positivity, and things that make us feel good. This can start with something as simple as a deep breath or a positive affirmation. As Thich Nhat Hanh reflects, “While we can’t avoid all the suffering in life, we can suffer much less by not watering the seeds of suffering inside us.”

Laura Golojuch, MS, LGMFT, provides couple, family, and individual therapy services in our Bethesda office. Call 240-752-7650 ext. 4,  or email today to schedule your first appointment or a complimentary telephone consultation.

Phone: MD: 240-752-7650
4905 Del Ray Avenue, Suite 301
Bethesda, MD 20814