Our Suffering, Ourselves

I have come to admire the naked autumn trees.

Against the pale gray sky, the bare branches honestly mourn their loss. Autumn trees do not droop, sag, and ask to be fixed; even if we could glue their leaves back on, what good would it do? Those naked autumn trees do one of the more powerful things in nature: they own their suffering.

We all suffer. And we don’t have to be in a conflict zone, car accident, poor health to be in pain.

Many days ask more of us than we’re prepared to give. And because we are each unique composites of flesh, feeling, and star dust, what is a lot for me, might be a little for you; what is no big whoop for Maggie, might overwhelm Mark.

Our suffering isn’t made legitimate because we have out-suffered everyone else. Our suffering, as a wise friend reminded me, is made legitimate because we feel it. Regardless of the causes.

Here, I think, it’s helpful to look to those autumn trees for guidance. Despite what the stoic, power-through, grin-and-bear-it strains in our culture might suggest, there is power in acknowledging our suffering. To ourselves and, if needed, to those caring souls in our lives.

There are four words in particular that I like to use with myself: I am in pain.

They are not a cry to be fixed or mended - if we want that, we can ask directly for that - they are an acknowledgment of my state. I’ve given myself permission to be in pain, no matter what little or large factors brought it about.

These four words loosen up my heart. They help me be gentle with myself, help me remember to rub the soreness at the base of my neck, make time for more sleep, say, “Thank you, no,” to meetings and parties that would drain me.

And usually, when I can acknowledge my own suffering, my heart is better able to acknowledge the suffering of others, without judging their pain or feeling guilty about my own.

We are not so different from those naked autumn trees, living bare and unprotected. And when the bareness is too much to ignore, there is only strength in owning the pain of that.

The Lightning Notes is funded by kind donors. If something here strikes you, I'd be grateful if you'd consider donating. Click to Donate!