They say the one thing in life that is certain is death. True. We are all born and we all die. There is another truth, and that is that we all will suffer.
Suffering. We don’t get out of this life without it. We can bury it, we can ignore it, we can bear it, and we can heal it. I would like to share a process about the latter.
Healing is the process by which we become whole again. Not the same, just whole in a new way. Life changes us and we bend and sometimes break to the demands of it. Buddhist philosophy is based on the principle that life is suffering. The four noble truths of Buddhism are
We all suffer
We are the cause of our suffering
Our suffering is temporary and
There is a way to live that reduces suffering
Meditation is a way that I have learned to sit with my suffering. Suffering for me has been like a deep well. I can’t see the depth from the surface, but when I dive in there is much that lies in that murky water. In witnessing my own pain I have realized there is a process to move forward with its release and a feeling of being my authentic self that emerges.
Our suffering wants to be seen, to be heard, to be felt, and ultimately to be comforted. In this process we become the whole beings we are intended to be.
Awareness - Noticing the Feeling:
This process begins with just being aware that a strong emotion has arisen. Perhaps you are processing a loss or a life change and the emotional impact is coming up for you. I suggest when this awareness happens you find a space to just sit for a while and move through these 4 stages. It can take anywhere from 15 minutes or longer if you decide to add journaling. It is also okay to do this in the presence of a therapist or in a healing space with others. Sharing your experience can be illuminating too. I like journaling where I can expand on themes and even draw if I am inclined to do so. Often when meditating I see an image that resonates with me that I would like to amplify or illuminate.
Acknowledge - You Become the Witness:
The next is Acknowledging what it is I am feeling. This can be a statement of the emotion and the sensation we are experiencing in our body. I often will lay a hand over this space in my body as a reassurance to myself, “I am here for you”. This is a way to befriend the feeling. Letting this part of yourself that is in pain know that it is not alone. You become the witness.
Becoming the witness to your own difficulties beckons us to breathe into that process. Slow intentional breath is good. I often will direct my breath to the part of my body where I am feeling the ache. This offers an opportunity to create space for further examination or support.
Acceptance - Leaning In:
The next phase is experiencing the pain and suffering in the moment. This can be tearful and emotional. Once you acknowledge the feeling, you may notice another feeling “under” the original feeling or sensation. There may be insights that arise during this process, and it is important to note them and acknowledge each new feeling that is revealed. I do think this is a revealing, as we often suppress and ignore our pain as it can be so uncomfortable. Sometimes feelings are complicated as well, for instance - sadness and anger travel together and fear and rejection can travel together. Just noting what you are feeling as it arises is very important.
Also, stating to yourself that this feeling is temporary allows for greater space for acceptance. “I am feeling this pain, but know that it will not last forever. I will heal. This is temporary.” You become the container or the containment for your emotions. You allow space for them to express and to deepen and expand. This can be intense for a time. Stay present and breathe. Make I statements, “I am feeling... or I see you (feeling) and know you are there”. Trusting in this process is important, as you will expand the depth of this experience to match what you can contain.
I often will pat or gently rub the space where I feel this pain. Often it is my heart, and I will pat my heart. If I feel it in my stomach, I will gently rub my stomach. This is another way to lean In and accept what is coming up. Another way to offer acceptance is to rock or sway as you feel the somatic experience of the suffering.
Allowance - Offering Compassion to Move Through
This final stage offers our suffering the compassion it is yearning for. Our suffering wants to be noticed and to share what it is experiencing. This comforting voice is a different kind of witnessing. We do this by offering a compassionate voice, or a compassionate feeling towards the suffering. It may be the inner voice that says, “I see you. I know you are there and I know it hurts.” This comforting voice can also say, “It is perfectly reasonable that you would feel this way given all that has happened” or “of course you feel this way, that is completely understandable” and even “You are not alone in how you feel. Your feelings are okay”, or even “I am so sorry this is happening and that you are feeling this way. You are deserving of love and laughter and goodness too”.
I list these statements here because many of us have not had the system of care that allows for us to create self compassion. You may have to introduce these statements to yourself and see how they land on you. Perhaps you can create your own. Keep working with this piece as it is so important. This is what your pain really wants. To be felt and understood.
Handout and Re-entry:
I encourage you to journal and to explore these in an artistic or expressive way as well. Even ending your meditation with movement can ease the release of the emotional feelings from the body and offer you a greater release. Other options to ease the return to your day to day life is to ground yourself by listening to music, taking a walk, stretching, and even just looking about the room, or outside the window, and noting what you see around you. Releasing strong emotions can be draining too, even napping is okay. Just allow yourself time to return to your daily life.
I have personally experienced great relief after processing suffering. I have been able to release many burdens I have carried for years. I have also used this clinically to offer emotional relief to longstanding feelings with clients I work with.
I have created a handout for easy following with some language prompts that may be helpful. I salute you for being courageous enough to be vulnerable in this experience. There is a relief that awaits this work. Wholeness is waiting for you.
A Passage by Matt Licata that reinforces this message of healing:
“One thing I’ve discovered in my own life (pain) – and also in my clinical work – is that it’s the capacity to grieve that creates the linkages in psyche and soma that are at the very essence of neural integration.
There is no true rebirth without passing through the portal of grief, which is not a solar journey upward into transcendence, but attunement to the descending current, into earth, body, and mud.
It is what allows us to hold and metabolize the fragments of the unlived life, held deep in the soul and the somatic unconscious.
One of the hallmarks of unresolved relational trauma is the incapacity to mourn, to weep all the way down into our cells, and make the journey of embodied lamentation.
As relational beings wired to co-regulate and co-enter the Mystery together, we’re not always able to do this on our own. We long for a Friend to bear witness to the subtle depth of our tears, emanations of the alchemical salt, which wash and purify the way ahead.”
About the author:
Vivian Morgan has been working with children and families for over 25 years and is currently in private practice in Towson, MD. She works with children (school-age through young adulthood), parents, and adults helping them reach their full potential. She utilizes a cognitive-behavioral approach, mindfulness and trauma informed practices, and a family systems lens in
her sessions, while also offering creative expressive strategies to assist understanding and resolving emotional and relational concerns. She has been utilizing Emotional Freedom Technique (EFT) in her practice for over 5 years and has helped instruct, inform, and promote the use of EFT for emotional reactivity, stress, anxiety, and trauma. She presented an Introduction to EFT at the Maryland Counseling Association's Annual Conference in October 2020 and continues to offer training around this innovative and interesting technique.