How to Relax into Suffering

by | Oct 11, 2022 | Healthy Relationships

What if, the next time you’re suffering in some way, you decide to relax into that suffering? 

Counterintuitive? I know.  

When I’m in some kind of pain or distress, every part of my body tends to tense up around it, brace against it, resist it.  

However, what if our goal is not to stop it, reject it, evaluate it or judge it? 

What if our goal is actually to develop a relationship with it; to get to know it? 

Let me give you an example. 

Here in Minnesota the leaves are changing color, and I invited my young adult daughter to take a morning walk with me through a local state park.  We got coffee, and began our walk.  After about 30 minutes she began to complain, “Ugh, mom, this is so long, when are we going to be done?”  

I felt my body tense up in resistance, and I started thinking: “What is wrong with her that she can’t enjoy these leaves and nature? Why is her stamina for a little morning walk so low?  Why can’t she keep her complaints to herself?”

You can imagine how the conversation would have gone if I had responded from this place.  

Instead, I took a breath, dropped down and simply connected with my feelings.  I felt disappointed.  I had wanted to share moments of beauty and joy with her, and she wasn’t enjoying it.  Our morning wasn’t actually bringing her joy in the way that I had imagined it would, and I felt sad about that. 

I connected with my deeper needs: to contribute to our well-being, to enjoy life together, to take in beauty, to feel connected.  

Slowing down and staying with my feelings of disappointment and sadness for a moment, and then connecting with my deeper needs  – instead of escalating the situation with my judgments and stories of wrongness about her or me – allowed me to come at the situation with more clarity, compassion and effectiveness. 

Leaning into my own feelings and needs, enabled me to also lean into her feelings and needs.  Presencing my own experience, enabled me to also presence her (different) experience – instead of making it “wrong.” 

What was important to me?  

Contributing to her well-being, staying in connection with her, enjoying life together.  

Seeing this, the conversation was simple: 

“It sounds like you’re tired and are maybe wanting to head home earlier, is that true?” 

“Yes, I am getting hungry and didn’t realize this loop would be so long – I would have brought water.” 

“Got it, let’s take this turn and head back towards the parking lot.” 

The rest of the walk was, in fact, joyful.  

We laughed and talked, and it ended up being quite simple. 

When we don’t get all worked up about things not turning out the way we think they “should,”  we find ourselves far more able to enjoy and relate with things the way they are.  If I had doubled down on wanting her to enjoy the walk, the leaves, the state park in the way that I did, we’d have ended up with even more friction.  However, when we can hold our strategies lightly, with a lot of flex and flow, and stay grounded and connected to our deeper needs, we often find that our needs are often met in unexpected and unpredictable ways.  And that, is delightful.

Have any tips or tricks for relaxing into things when they are not what you’d prefer?  Please leave a comment below!


  1. Lynn Thomas

    A beautiful story and example! Thank you for sharing.

  2. roger kreyer

    love the idea, sinking into disappointment, getting out of self and seeing the needs of others. I will use this with my sons. Thank you!

  3. Kay

    H Yvett, I’mgoing to remember that phrase froM the story above to ”hold our strategies lightly”. That will help me in the future, I just know it. Thank you!


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