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How big is your Suffering?

Updated: Jul 7, 2020

Most of us carry around some form of pain or suffering. Suffering can actually be the strongest motivator for your personal growth, and therefore your "best friend." However, you have always the choice to end suffering at any time, and it is also not needed to grow your level of consciousness (LOC). Let me explain in more detail below.

I also wrote a self- assessment guide to determine your own level of suffering at the end of the article if you would like to have a closer look at your level of suffering (LOS).

However, let's first clarify on the definition and terminology

Pain itself is defined as per IASP (International Study of Pain):

“An unpleasant sensory and emotional experience associated with actual or potential tissue damage, or described in terms of such damage.”

Pain usually is not experienced as pleasant.

We distinguish further between physical or emotional pain

Physical pain is related to your body, while emotional pain is related to a thought that you believe is true. 

Pain itself happens always in the current moment, the Now

Let’s say you bump your head against a wall. You feel the pain right now in this moment. 

The duration of the pain can be short, but can also last over a longer period of time (possibly even become chronic pain). 

Pain itself is not good or bad. It is just a sensory or emotional experience. However, if you identify with the thoughts that may arise when you experience the pain, it may trigger a feedback loop of negative thoughts

For example, let’s say you feel you are stressed and your chest feels tight. A thought arises “Am I healthy?”, followed by “Maybe I have a heart problem ...”, “Will I have a heart attack shortly?” … 

Observe that the thoughts continuously become more negative, as you identify with them and don’t question whether they are actually true. As a result more powerful negative feelings, such as anger or anxiety arise. 

These powerful emotions give rise to suffering

You are in a state of suffering, because you believe your negative thoughts to be true. You identify fully with them.

To summarize: 

  • Pain itself is just an unpleasant sensory and emotional experience. It is neither good nor bad in its nature. 

  • However, the negative thoughts that could be arising because of that pain, may trigger a negative feedback loop, which will (eventually) lead to suffering. 

  • At this point you may likely experience the pain even more strongly than it actually is. 

What are some common triggers of suffering? 

  • Change: Through the process of change, fear of the unknown may arise, which will lead to suffering. 

  • Doubt: You may have self-doubt about a certain situation or topic.

  • Worthiness: You feel unworthy of being loved. 

  • Worry: You are constantly rehashing a certain situation in the potential future, thinking that the worst case scenario will most likely hit you. Did you notice that these worryful thoughts like to occasionally come up in the middle of the night, possibly at 3 a.m. and keep you awake? 

  • Loss: Any form of personal loss, like the death of a loved one, or a divorce. Or, you got laid off at work. 

  • Disease: You got sick, possibly very sick. You start to wonder why you. 

There are more triggers. These are just a few examples. 

What are the symptoms of suffering? 

  • Limitations, scarcity, and narrowness: You are not thinking in terms of abundance. Instead, your limiting thoughts will keep you in a limited state of mind, and prevent the expansion of your consciousness. This is the most common case why people are stuck in their personal growth. That can lead to … 

  • Stress: You feel stressed. That has a negative effect on your body, which leads to a build-up of actual emotions and stress responses. Your body is in the “Fight or Flight” survival mode, adrenaline is released, and your ability of conscious thinking is limited. Stress usually is a precursor and leads to … 

  • Anger: You have no control of your mood and become frustrated quickly. Your temper is on edge, and the smallest event can trigger a massive outburst of your anger. In this state of mind you’re likely to hurt yourself or even other persons through your words and actions. This leads to … 

  • Anxiety: You are anxious. You might wake up in the middle of the night with a panic attack, and feel that you’re dying. Of course you are not dying. It is the fear that causes these sensations. If this worsens, the next step is becoming fearful of your fear. This is a vicious cycle. For example, in daily situations you may think that the panic attack will be showing up any minute. And it then becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. 

Realize that suffering can be your best friend to fuel your personal growth, but it is not needed, and you can consciously decide to end it at any time.  

Living in a state of suffering for a longer time is not healthy. 

However, this is usually a necessary condition to generate a strong motivation for your personal growth and desire for transformation. Therefore suffering in some way can be your best “friend” to help you grow.  

If the level of suffering becomes unbearable, there is a possibility that consciousness rises, and introduces a small opening into the mind’s thick shell of thoughts. Just enough to initiate a transformation process.

You then realize that suffering is generated by your mind, and you no longer want to bear the pain and suffering. You decide it is time to move past it. This is when real transformation is happening. 

Therefore the bigger your pain, the higher your level of suffering, the better is the chance for your consciousness to rise and fuel your personal growth. 

Is suffering a prerequisite for your personal growth?

As you know I work as a leadership coach and trainer to leaders on all levels. 

I sometimes wonder whether personal growth is feasible without suffering. 

In my experience possibly some (incremental) growth can be achieved without suffering, but real growth needs a trigger to generate the necessary motivation and willpower.

It is similar when you compare this with people taking vitamin pills or supplements. Everyone knows that a vitamin pill could (potentially) bring you certain health benefits for your body, or possibly some performance improvements. Only some people will take the vitamin pill proactively to gain some improvements. But there is no strong motivation. Many people will therefore not do it. 

On the other hand, if you have a strong headache, you will most likely take some pain medicine

Many people who are suffering are motivated to stop their suffering. If their level of consciousness is rising through having experienced enough suffering, it opens up the will power and desire for transformation. 

However, there are people who like to suffer. They identify themselves as a “victim”, and like to live in misery. These people also like to complain a lot, as a means to gain attention from others. But they are not interested in a solution. For them, the suffering provides them identity - and this is also a completely fine choice to take – my article would just not be any help for this personality – it would actually be contra productive. In my experience you also won't be able to help them, unless they start asking for help.

Action items

1) Do some self reflection. Determine whether you are experiencing any form of pain right now in this moment. If so, feel it with all your attention, and notice it objectively. If not, notice that you are currently free of pain. 

2) Now continue your self reflection, and possibly notice one thought that is unpleasant in nature (i.e., fear, worry), based upon some emotional pain.

  • It is best to do this in a short meditation and quiet environment. Sit back, relax, close your eyes and focus on your breath for a few minutes. 

  • Then feel into your body. How does your body feel? Focus gradually on one part of the body (e.g., from toes to head), sometimes also called a “body scan”. 

  • Put your awareness now on this (possibly) unpleasant thought. Feel into it. 

  • Now observe whether your body is changing. What emotions and feelings do you observe? Is anxiety arising?

  • Don’t get identified with these thoughts or the emotions that appear in your body. Just notice them and observe. Feel and accept them. Let them be. 

  • Then release the thought. Put your awareness back on your breath. Do a few deep breaths, then open your eyes gradually when you feel ready. 

3) Determine the level of your suffering (LOS) currently on a scale between 1 to 10 (worst level)

Do this quickly without too much thinking. 

If your LOS is high (> 5), what are you going to do about it?

  1. Do nothing, wait, and hope that things get better. You could also think about it some more – feel about it some more – and decide later, if you want to work on a change for yourself.

  2. You like drama and misery. This is who you are. The world is a bad place, and you're the victim. It could be helpful to reflect whether this is indeed your current state of mind. If you recognize this, that alone could be a good starting point for a transformation to happen.

  3. Decide to change it. Suffering is no longer helpful to me. It is time to move on. 

I encourage you to reflect over this question now. Set aside 10-15 minutes for a meditation and set your intent to address this question. Then notice what thoughts are arising in you.

If your LOS is low (<3), there are possibly two scenarios:

  1. You are in suffering free, calm state of mind with a high level of consciousness (LOC.) You have grown to become the best version of yourself and consciously decided that growth no longer is a thriving need. Or, you feel ok or good at the moment and there is no inner impulse for action – or no need for action.

  2. Or, you are in your comfort zone, feeling good, but have not et become the best version of yourself. You feel an inner need or wish to change something inside or outside in your life. Do a reflection (steps above) and determine whether there are any areas of growth that you are avoiding. You can write all the areas down and speak to someone you trust and ask for feedback. Sometimes we have blind spots and miss the most urgent part that might need change in order to feel in balance again and with less pain. My recommendation is to get out of this state, decide on your growth strategy, and act.

I would like to support you, if you would like to work on your Change with me

First of all I want to be very clear here:

Suffering is not needed once you have become aware of it. You could decide to stop it now. It is not helpful and detrimental to your health!

Suffering is not like "pet" that you keep around. Consciously decide to end it when you are ready. This can be now, tomorrow or in some distant future.

Your mind may tell yourself stories "If I could only do this first ..." or "I need to first ... to be ... ) then suffering would end. Don't believe those thoughts, they are not true. See for yourself.

Here is a short overview of articles I have written and courses I have made – if you feel inspired please reach out to me:

  • I can help you with relevant resources to train your mind on my blog

  • I created a free webinar that provides an overview of mindful leadership, and how to best get started. Use this as a first step to take action. 

  • Take my new course “A novel approach to Mindful Leadership” (in German). It teaches you step by step proven methods, to train and declutter your mind, and stop the suffering once and for all. However, this already requires a high level of motivation and strong will power. 

  • It is therefore helpful to join a community like the Fellowship of Mindful Leaders, and surround yourself with a support community. This increases your likelihood of success. 

  • Besides this, I can assist you in achieving a massive growth and step change though my Mastermind Group Coaching, or through individual 1:1 leadership coaching. If you decide you want to end your suffering for good, this is potentially a very effective way to achieve this- but depends on your openness and willingness to change, and a strong commitment to end your suffering.

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