Choosing to Suffer Prepares us for when Suffering Chooses Us.
Part of the experience of choosing to suffer is to prove to ourselves that we can. That we're strong enough. Tough enough. That we trust in ourselves to do so. You might say we even enjoy it. When we choose to suffer, we have the innate belief we can handle the suffering and we find meaning in it.
But what about when suffering chooses us? When the pain of suffering isn't something that we opted for, when there is no meaning? Like an unexpected loss, or unwanted challenge. What then? Are we any better prepared for unchosen suffering because we've chosen to train our suffer muscle?
I believe so.
A huge part of moving forward through life's "un-chosen" suffering is how we show up to it.
If the suffering is perceived as unwanted, our thoughts, feelings, and behaviors will reflect that. And that's not to say those thoughts, feelings, and actions are inappropriate for the un-chosen suffering. They're the reflection of how we've REACTED to the suffering. We fight it–there's no acceptance of it.
When we choose to suffer, we've accepted that fact that suffering will be part of the experience. This acceptance comes from choice: choosing experiences of suffering that we feel like we have a 50/50 chance of being successful with. Choosing experiences that require suffering that are meaningful to us. Acceptance gives us choice. Choice gives us space to feel, deal, and expand our capabilities, both mentally and physically.
Let's give "chosen suffering" some context: Say you've chosen to run your first marathon. You've trained for it, you're nervous, yet excited to do it. But at mile 18, your internal voice starts using words like, "I hate this," or "never again." Yet you keep going. You don't stop. You continue with the suffering because you've chosen it. Your motivation for it comes internally, but not necessarily intrinsically–meaning, you're accepting the pain, you've identified that it's a necessary part of this specific meaningful achievement in your life.
We all know what unchosen suffering feels like, so no need for context, there.
So how do we apply a similar response of choosing to suffer to un-chosen suffering? First, it's less about reframing the suffering, putting on the rose-colored positivity glasses and trying to find the bright side of the suffering. It's not that. That's denying the suffering. In denying the suffering, we give it no place to go, so it stays within us.
Un-chosen suffering awaits our acceptance of it.
Our suffer-strength comes into play from our play, from recognizing that just because the suffering isn't our choice, we've proven time and time again that we TOTALLY CAPABLE of suffering. We CAN go deep, and we CAN come back up. That we can CHOOSE to shift our focus towards accepting the suffering. And accepting is not about conquering. It's about transforming our relationship with it, accepting it at that moment, keeping our minds in the conscious now...not an hour, a day, a week or month down the road, ruminating over some catastrophic, ficticious outcome.
Another difference between accepting and not accepting suffering lies within the lies we tell ourselves about it: It'll never get better. It's always like this. I can't." How we explain the suffering to ourselves has a HUGE impact on our ability to suffer.
When we choose to suffer, thoughts and intentions are optimistic. When suffering chooses us, we can tend to go pessimistic. One moves us forward, the other, helpless and hopeless.
Instead of, "It'll never get better," we can think "It will eventually get better" Or, instead of "It's always like this," we can think "It's sometimes like this."
Imagine the next time suffering knocks on your door, unannounced. Now, imagine greeting it with a mindset similar to the one utilized when you chose to physically or emotionally suffer.
Like suffering through that marathon, or the suffering endured as you changed jobs, changed cities, changed yourself. Remember that "you" who chooses to suffer.
And then welcome that next unannounced guest with that "you."
We have the ability to choose how to suffer when suffering chooses us. Our choice either strengthens resiliency or chips away at it. Choosing to suffer, practicing it, is an opportunity to re-write or more deeply set-in the internal narrative of how we experience life's sufferings. It supports us in showing up as a victor to the suffering or a victim of the suffering.
Where can you choose to strengthen your suffer muscle? Choosing to suffer strengthens our self-efficacy towards life's challenges. It develops self-trust and re-affirms ourselves when suffering chooses us.
Gaining this awareness, accepting it as an opportunity to learn and grow, and then actively engaging in it, is a really cool way not only to suffer, better, but to human, better.