The Art of Suffering

by | Nov 3, 2019 | Feelings

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Suffering is not always a bad thing.

It’s what we do with our suffering that actually matters.

Sometimes, we rush in to fix, help, advise and alleviate suffering – whether our own or someone else’s – far too quickly.

What do I mean by that?

We can unintentionally do people a disservice when we try to protect people from their suffering or when we are in a hurry to alleviate how things feel too quickly.

Sometimes, our rush to “help someone feel better” (which, by the way, is usually about ourselvs trying to feel better) denies them an opportunity for deeper healing, transformation and empowerment.

Remember, all feelings serve a purpose. They carry a wisdom and a signal about something in our lives that needs to be healed, witnessed, addressed or changed.

Alleviating the symptoms (the feelings) can get in the way of healing or transforming the deeper cause. When we rush in to alleviate feelings too quickly, to fix things too quickly, we run the risk of supporting and enabling a toxic status quo.

We keep things “normal” because it’s familiar, not always because it’s healthy or life-affirming.

We get addicted to skimming over the surface of our lives avoiding whatever lurks in the depths.


Our rage, our sadnesses, our crises each bear the seeds of our personal transformation.

When we slow down and feel into life’s experiences fully, we may discover that …

  • There is a reason why it feels so shitty when you’re sad, and someone tells you to “look on the bright side”: The sadness we feel is a gateway to our deepest, truest self; that part of ourselves that wants to honor whatever matters deeply to us.

  • There is a reason why it feels so bad when you’re angry, and someone tells you to “calm down”: The anger and rage we feel is a gateway to our passions, our purpose and our clarity; that part of ourselves that cares deeply about things that matter to us, and holds the seeds of a vision of a better way, a better world.

Your body knows better. Your body knows where it is going: it knows how to get wisdom, power and strength by moving through the feelings to the other side.

Not by skimming over, numbing out, or acting out unskillfully.

So, by all means – when someone in front of you is in pain, in suffering: provide empathy, offer solace, offer companionship – but don’t jump in too quickly to try to erase their suffering – when you can’t clearly see what is truly going on in the context of their lives, it may be a mistake.

Someone losing a job?
This might be exactly what they need to move into more meaningful or purposeful work.

Someone partnering up with that person you just know isn’t good for them? You can see the train wreck waiting for them?
This might be exactly the stepping stone that they need in their own journey of awakening.

The dissolution of a marriage?
This might be exactly what that person needs for the next step in their own healing, empowerment or transformation.

When you see someone suffering, if your own anxiety kicks in and you find yourself trying to fix or change it, remember to sit with the feelings for longer, and longer and longer so that you can follow the wisdom that emerges as you practice emotional alchemy.

Human dynamics are not logical. They do not follow a clear cause and effect. There is no way of knowing if something is “good” or “bad,” and its pure hubris to believe that we know what is best for other people. Instead of trying to find logic, look for patterns. Watch the patterns that unfold. Seek the deeper truth. Look beneath the surface.

Suffering is not necessarily a bad thing.
Not knowing how to use it is where unnecessary suffering kicks in.
Everything has a purpose.

“No mud, no lotus.” Thich Nhat Hanh

I’d love to hear from you … leave a comment below


  1. Kelsy Kuehn

    This is such a true message. We go to fixing way too fast. From the youngest part of childhood we are told “there there it will be alright.” Watch shows on TV, they are constantly saying “it’ll be alright.” Grates on me every time. I struggle to get out of that reflexive fixing to know what to say. And therein lies the rub. Maybe listen, don’t say anything?

  2. Suzanne Long

    Practicing feeling my feelings when triggered by something or someone has been one of the most valuable skills of NVC for me. It has led me to my needs and allowed me and my needs to matter. So when I read "Our rage, our sadness…." Little girl and old woman voices inside vociferated YES!!!!!!!! It is a magnificent statement. Thank you all the time.


    As a parent I am so (so) guilty of wanting to ease the suffering of my kids. I almost feel like it is my duty to ease their suffering as quickly as possible. As they have gotten older their bumps have gotten bigger and my ability to shield them has become less effective. Thanks for the reminder that life gives us lessons. With those lessons we become stronger. Peace.

  4. Michelle Tokarz

    I have seriously had to put distance between myself as a 50 year okd woman, and my parents mainly because the won’t "let me cry". And I mean REALLY let me cry. Some things in life are just sad. Period. And I have so many layers of covering over the tears. And I don’t want to have to wait until they’re dead before I’m allowed to cry. That’s not fair. Truly allowing the tears with no blame or shame has led me to deeper discoveries of myself. EVERY TIME.


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