“In Virtually every spiritual tradition, suffering is understood as the doorway to awakening” (Goleman, 2008, p. 94).
When does suffering begin? Suffering really started at the beginning of life. Our first breath into this world, we were bombarded with new senses. The moment we left our mother’s womb, we were confronted with a strange new world. We were no longer cloaked in the warmth of our mother’s amniotic sac. The comforting darkness we were so used to was replaced by a strong white light and fuzzy shapes. Our ears could hear new loud noises that they never heard before. I don’t remember leaving my mother’s womb, but if I did, it would most likely be remembered as a traumatic experience. In infancy, our suffering is based on changes that our bodies are going through to adjust to the conditions of this world. As we grow, there are traumatic experiences that happen to each of us, some more severe than others. I was only two years old, but I still remember a traumatic experience of ants crawling all over my legs and feet. To this day, when I see an ant hill, I walk way around it to avoid being bitten. As we grow further, our suffering may still be external elements attacking us, however, it is the internal processing of these traumas that effect how we continue to grow and change for the rest of our lives. If we cannot accept our suffering as a pathway to peace, we will miss out on the joys that life has to offer. When suffering his internalized, we do damage to ourselves that can take years and years to heal. Those who live with this unresolved grief of suffering adapt to the condition, but something inside of us is slowly dying. The very sad part about this way of living is that it creeps up on us. We don’t know why we are sad, lonely, angry, or bitter anymore. Our suffering becomes the gatekeeper of our hearts. No one can break through because our past sufferings will not allow it. I was someone who buried my suffering for many years. Though the world was beautiful around me, I was incapable of noticing it. The earth was a beautiful sadness to me. Almost everything was beautiful, but somehow I barred myself from embracing that beauty. My suffering kept me a prisoner. Then one day, something miraculous happened. I was jolted to an awakened state. My spiritual awakening was so powerful, that it almost seems fantastical. A force mightier than myself pulled me out of the deep waters of my suffering and breathed new life into me. I finally loved myself and had enough compassion to leave a situation that was killing my spirit. Though there were so many people that prayed deep heart-felt prayers for my situation over my many years of suffering, I came to life again only when I felt that compassion for myself. . As Dr. Dossey says in Measuring the Immeasureable, I suddenly realized that “. . . everything was going to be alright. It was; the pain vanished, along with the anxiety and sense of isolation” (Goleman, 2008, p. 48). I realized that somewhere along the way, that strong courageous person I used to be had been replaced by a trembling, scared little girl who was powerless to make any moves, afraid that the landmines I was living in would destroy me. My spiritual journey has led me to believe that suffering is part of God’s plan; if there was no suffering, there would be no growth, and without growth, a person’s full potential is never realized. I believe that God wants us to love ourselves just as He loves us.
My journey of suffering came from a situation that I never thought it would. I married a man I thought I really knew. He met all of the standards I held so dear. But most of all, he was my best friend. We could talk about anything and everything. He matched me vigor for life and had dreams of his own that I couldn’t wait to see come to pass. When we got married, I knew he was the one I would spend the rest of my life with. Even now, I think of his face as I came down the aisle. He looked at me like I was the most beautiful thing he ever saw. It’s hard to remember those good times even now, because they were followed by the worst times of my life. As the years passed, I started to realize that my husband was not the man I thought he was. He did things throughout our marriage that still make me cringe. The love he had for me quickly faded and was replaced by coldness, sarcasm and eventually disgust. My heart broke a little more every day I stayed with him. It was evident early on that he regretted marrying me. He would often say that he had “made his bed.” I was nothing to him; nothing more than a woman he was burdened to live the rest of his life with. I knew he would never leave me, but he did whatever he could to make me leave. I truly believe that all of his cheating and troubles with the law were attempts at forcing me to leave without him having to make that decision. I felt that I loved him so much, that I could not imagine myself without him. I look back now and cannot believe that I was living such a pitiful existence.
The beginning of the end of that suffering was when I decided to go back to school. For the rest of my life, I will encourage people I know to educate themselves. My path to school really saved my life. A dear friend of mine knew how hopeless I felt and encouraged me to go back to school and do something for myself. We are no longer friends because of something that happened between us, but I will forever be grateful to her for that encouragement because it literally changed my life. In my first semester at Prescott College I began to feel an awakening. What I learned, I valued as priceless gems. I hoarded that learning in the cavern of my heart. I would take it out and look at it sometimes, but I was still so afraid that it would be somehow taken away from me. As time went on, I wanted to share the wealth I had gained from learning. I began passing out knowledge to family and friends. Learning gave me a joy that I had missed for so long. As I write this, I am reminded of Frank McCourt’s memoir, Angela’s Ashes. His greatest joy as a child came when he was in the infirmary in Ireland as a boy. During that time, he was given Shakespeare to read. He said that reading those lines was like, holding jewels in his mouth (McCourt, 1996). Going to school re-taught me how to think on my own and reminded me that I was a valuable and intelligent person.
I remember the exact day I was awakened to my new life. My husband had not been talking to me for more than a month, the longest he had not spoken to me. His silence was something I was used to, but this one had lasted for more than I was capable of handling. We lived in a very secluded place. Every day as time passed became like a tally mark of suffering. I would plead with him to talk to me, but he would always walk away. I became more and more depressed every day. I would hold it together during the day for my children, but night time was the worst. After everyone went to bed, I was always left alone with my thoughts. They were like demons whispering in my ears. I would sit outside under the stars and gaze up at them, not seeing the beauty, but wishing the darkness would consume me. I wanted it all to end. There was an actual moment that I thought about ending my life, but my children prevented me from doing it. I knew that if I left this world, my suffering would turn into their suffering and the pain would never end. On one of these nights, I couldn’t sleep and I left to take our clothes to the laundromat. I took one of my class readings with me, Awareness, by Anthony De Mello. While reading his book, his words hit me square between the eyes. He talked about how so many of us live our lives asleep. He introduced the idea of being aware in all aspects of our being. He talked about suffering being a state of mind. He talked about letting those feelings wash over you and leave. He talked about showing compassion to yourself, and he talked about living a full life. All of a sudden, the unrequited love I was feeling for my husband was of no matter. It was the love for my soul that I found. My heart opened to myself that night. I felt so much love and understanding for my brokenness that I cried the whole ride home. I was awakened to the fact that I had replaced that love for self for the love of another who treated me worse than a dog. This realization hit me so hard and fast that I made a definite decision to leave that unhappy house with my daughters and go find my peace.
My spiritual awakening was one of survival. I could not have survived the life I was living. Such cruelty burns your heart and squelches the soul. However painful it was, my suffering was a key process of my awakening. In Dr. Pert’s section of the text entitled, The Science of Emotions and Consciousness, she makes this even clearer. “When this anguish is fully processed, constant bliss is a possibility” (Goleman, 2008, p. 29). It is through suffering that we make peace with this life and learn to appreciate the simplest beauties. Just as a baby changes into a toddler then into a child and further into an adult, the changes we endure make us who we are. My suffering allowed me to be grateful for everything I have now. I live every day seeking out life’s joys. That is the beauty of living in such an awakened state. You notice beauty in places that you never realized could be beautiful. You accept the harshness that life brings as a pathway to peace and understanding. You begin to see life as a whole; interconnected with other lives. You begin to help others in ways that you can only do if you yourself are whole inside. I have accepted my suffering as something that was essential to my growth. I don’t think I would be as joyful and beautiful today if I had not gone through suffering. My spiritual journey has led me to believe that God had never forsaken me. He knew my suffering would bring about a beautiful work in me. This is the person He always wanted me to be; someone who loves Him, loves others and loves myself. As He told Jeremiah in the Bible, “I know the plans I have for you. Plans to prosper you and not to harm you. Plans to give you hope and a future” (The Holy Bible, 1989, Jeremiah 29:11). What I know now is that God has a design for our lives. This plan always includes loving yourself just as He does. Though we may lose our way from this path, his eternal love will find us and remind us of who we are.
Goleman, D. (2008). Measuring the immeasurable: The scientific case for spirituality. Boulder, Colorado.
McCourt, F. (1996). Angela’s ashes: A memoir. New York: Scribner.
Oxford University Press. (1989). The Holy Bible: Containing the Old and New Testaments with the Apocryphal/Deuterocanonical books : New Revised Standard Version. New York: Oxford University Press.
© 2015 Jamie Mendoza