Embrace the Suck

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We have to face the pain we have been running from.  In fact, we need to learn to rest in it and let its searing power transform us. ~Charlotte Joko Beck~

SUCK-METER-PATCHYears ago one of my husband’s cycling buddies turned him on to the mantra, “Embrace the Suck”.  While never having served in the military, the power of this mantra played out in the many miles we challenged ourselves to suffer through while training for century races and marathons.  When I thought I could no longer put one foot in front of the other, I would repeat

Embrace the Suck
Embrace the Suck
Embrace the Suck

and I would find my strength amidst the immense amount of suffering my mind and body were enduring.  These are powerful words of acceptance.

Fast forward a few years and I have to admit that I have been suffering again but this time on an emotional level.  I have suffered heartbreak and challenges that have seemed larger than my finite capabilities.  There have been moments that I literally thought I would not survive the wounds.  That my chest would simply explode from the intensity of pain if my heart did not simply shatter before the explosion.  I had forgotten about embracing the suck and my mind spent too much time fighting against the truth of what was.  Fighting to avoid the suffering.  Fighting against the suffering was only causing me more suffering.

At some point, I made a conscious decision to plunge in to the suffering.  My mind eventually recognized that there was no changing the course of what was happening externally so our only choice for survival was to accept the suffering.  I made a commitment with myself to avoid distractions as a way to cope because distractions would mask for a time or possibly even make my suffering worse.  I refused to use alcohol, weed, television, relationships, anxiety drugs, painkillers, shopping as ways to numb.  I vowed to feel.  To find healthy ways of dealing.  I started meditating, took an MBSR course, journaled, deepened friendships, invested in my boys, read books about healing, vented to a therapist, and started sitting in silence discovering who I am.  Who I am in my darkest moments.  Every time I was tempted to medicate and drown (which I wasn’t perfect…sometimes I chose the unhealthy), I would ask myself, “who do I want to be?  Is this in line with my highest self?”  Most of the time, I was able to choose suffering…hoping there was something to be learned at the end of it.  In those crushing moments, I would simply name out my  experience.

Pain
Pain
Pain
Lonely
Lonely
Lonely
Afraid
Afraid
Afraid

The simple task of identifying what was happening within allowed space for acceptance.  Pain, loneliness, and fear were no longer overwhelmingly powerful.  They were a small portion of a whole experience.  This moment pain.  This moment loneliness.  This moment an abundance of fear.  This sucks…I want out.  I want to numb.  No, Amy, Embrace the Suck just for this moment.  It was a constant battle to outwit my mind.  My mind was in survival mode.  My spirit wanted more than survival.  My spirit wanted growth even in the midst of suffering.  When one chooses to Embrace the Suck, they choose growth over fear based survival.

I practiced sitting in pain for 6 months.  Some periods were extremely challenging.  At times I failed my goal of acceptance.  I was too uncomfortable or too weak to accept the challenge.  I distracted.  Other times, I came out the other side of pain feeling more whole, stronger, super proud of the person I was becoming. comfort-zone-300x206

Two months ago I attended a one day silent, meditation retreat and I was in immense psychological pain.   A pain that manifested itself both emotionally and physically.  I cannot remember another time in life when I felt so low.  So beat up.  The entire day I was plagued by the incessant processing of my mind.  A rerun of hurtful events played over and over again.  A running stream of stories about my future.  It refused to be quieted. My body reacted with chest pains and vomiting.  I could not find any enjoyment or purpose in this practice of acknowledging my truths and accepting suffering.  I even suffered through my lunch, resenting every forced bite of food that my stomach wanted to reject.  I was finished with nourishing myself.  My mind was going to win.  How’s that for truth?!?   I was a pissed off woman, filled to the brim with pain, suffering through a zen retreat.  At the end of the retreat we did a loving kindness meditation and I could not even offer loving kindness to myself.  I was too broken.  A shell of nothingness.

In spite of what felt like a complete failure of my first attempt at a retreat, I continued my mediation practice.  I was determined to see this suffering through to the end.  I wanted to see who I would be when the blanched layers of my former self were peeled away.

IMG_2415Last weekend, I was able to see that woman in full form.  I understood the importance of suffering for the very first time in my life.  I received this gift at the same retreat I had reluctantly attended two months prior.  My external circumstances are still painful and challenging but I’ve come to accept them.  To find my voice and declare my needs in spite of them.  In the past few months, I have started growing stronger, deeper, more certain of my convictions.  I am understanding what it means to be me rather than a form of me that has been painted by others.  I’ve learned to be my own mirror.  To name my experiences both positive and negative.  I’ve sat deeper and deeper in suffering and, at times, have even welcomed it to sit with me.  I’ve been able to identify my Mara, shake her hand and rather than chase her out, I’ve welcomed her as my teacher.

During my meditation retreat, each meditation offered me a fullness and spaciousness that I hadn’t had room for 2 months ago.  I began to realize that I had been budding, growing in the wisdom of all that I was being taught.  Still a sapling but beginning to grow leaves and even a bit of fruit.

I had an awakening during my silent lunch.  I found a little bench hidden within a wall of flowering bushes and I allowed myself to be fully present and open to whatever would arise.  I had no expectation beyond mindfully eating my colorful peppers and tofu (which was a sensory experience in and of itself).

The first awakening I had was noticing the overwhelming, sweet scent of a new bloom near my bench.  I inhaled with my eyes open.  I inhaled withpavonia-emperor-moth--thomas-marent my eyes closed.  Its seductive fragrance was a smile upon my being.  A gift given to me and I was receiving.  I later tried to breathe in that sweet fragrance again and no matter how hard I tried, I could not find the scent again.  I began to connect this experience to studies I’ve read about our brains.  My brain processed this scent when I first sat down and at some point it decided that the scent was no longer necessary to process.  It was no longer useful.  I then began to wonder how many things my eyes had seen when I first walked in to this garden that my mind decided were no longer useful.  How many things exist (sounds, smells, sights) that my mind identifies and deems unnecessary and then blocks them from registering?  It is then possible for two people to sit in the same space and have two very different experiences.  Both of them equally true.  Neither one right or wrong.  This opened me up to the possibility that I could be more empathetic in my relationships.  I can accept that my reality and another’s reality may be concurrently factual and different at the same time.  Wow!

87791820_XSMy second awakening arrived as I became an observer of nature.  I felt as though I was privileged to be among nature’s world not as a participant but as a quiet spectator.  I noticed a tall weed that had pushed up through the crack of a cement driveway and I thought, “That weed was not provided ideal conditions for nourishment and growth.  I bet it was an immense struggle to reach toward the sun.  I bet that weed suffered.  But maybe, just maybe, through its suffering it has a better life than the weed that was without struggle.  The weeds that grew in the grass (ideal conditions) are likely mowed over or eradicated with weed killer.  This driveway weed suffered and because of that struggle has life.”  This is, of course, the story I have applied to the weed but it began the process of bringing full circle my understanding of suffering.  IMG_2364

Next I saw a fly become entangled in a spiderweb.  There was a part of me that desperately wanted to free it but I remembered a parable told to me in my meditation course.  It’s the parable of the Emperor Moth.  In this story a man comes across a moth trying to free itself from its cocoon.  He feels sorry for the moth and its struggle so he opens the cocoon to free it.  The moth dies soon after because it required the struggle of breaking open its cocoon to strengthen its wings for flying.  In the attempt to free the moth, the man instead stole it of its opportunity to gain strength.  The removal of the moth’s suffering caused its death.  In suffering there is opportunity.

With this reminder of the need for suffering, I began to understand that the fly needs to suffer.  If the fly does not suffer, the spider will not be able to spin another web.  I began to weep.  An abundance of tears came flowing freely because I could see.  Suffering is necessary.  Without it, we are robbed of the opportunities to grow.  We are stagnant and dead.  In this moment of being an observer, my understanding of suffering had come full circle.  I recognized that I had painfully stumbled through suffering and made it to the other side.  The side of freedom.  I saw who I am.  I am a woman who has arisen from the ashes.  A woman who walked through the flames of suffering and allowed them to lick away the layers and layers of unnecessary fear.  I am the beautiful emperor moth with robust wings that fly.  I am the weed that found a way to reach for the sun.  I am the fly that needed to suffer to feed the spider.

I am life.
I am life.
I am life.

I embraced the suck.  I accepted suffering.  I held hands with my Mara.  I answered the call of darkness with a conscious and deliberate choice of light.  I am learning the form of my highest self.  Suffering has been my greatest gift.  May you, too, find the gift in your suffering.    I’l leave you with the words of Christina Rasmussen.  This quote gave me the nudge to surrender to suffering.
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2 responses »

  1. Thank you for sharing your excruciatingly beautiful journey with us. To me, you are the epitome of strength as you “embrace the suck.”

    Like

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