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The humbling nature of suffering

There is much to learn from being on the receiving end of a particular situation that has formerly caused significant pain and suffering. And it is within this alternate, uncomfortable perspective that we become humbled.

Over the years, and as has been written in one of my more recent poems, I have struggled with friendships that have seemingly vanished without explanation. These were friendships that I considered true and balanced; vulnerabilities were reciprocated and effort mutual. The appreciation and gratitude for the other’s presence in one’s life was constantly established and known. So after sharing so much of oneself, how then could they merely disappear? And disappearing in today’s society is not literally disappearing, but a refusal to respond and acknowledge one’s existence in the form of replying to messages, hand-written letters, phone calls, and anything else posted on the internet.

I have come to learn that there are many things in life that we will never be able to understand. The disappearance of these individuals from my life was incredibly painful and still is to this day. These were individuals I felt deeply connected to either intellectually or as a soulmate. Their beliefs continually challenged my perspectives and I felt that I’ve grown from their relationships more than I have from many others. I continually found myself questioning: why? What is it about me that caused them to just stop talking to me? What did I do? What is fundamentally wrong with me?

But recently I have been humbled. I found myself on the receiving end of this situation as it was I who did the disconnecting. My brain tried to rationalise “why” – I tried to grasp onto any explanation to justify my behaviour, to help explain my actions, but I couldn’t. I just disconnected. And as much as I know it fucking sucks for the other individual, I genuinely could not help it, nor explain it.

And so I realise that the question I had been asking myself about the loss of former friendships was indeed the wrong question to be asking. A few years ago, one of my beautiful friends taught me about this concept of seasons and how people will come and go from your life, each coming initiating a new season. Some friendships only last the one season, while others might reappear annually. Each season serves a purpose and within that purpose is a lesson. Once this lesson has been learned, their presence becomes obsolete and you find yourself having to move on. The point this friend was making was that there is an acceptance and grace necessary as it pertains to friendships. To not accept, is to struggle. And to struggle is to suffer. Part of loving someone is accepting them, as they are, imperfect in their flaws. Love is not meant to be conditional, and in this context, my friendships had become conditional to me. I was only willing to love them if they were present in my life. But to do so is to create an energy of deficiency within myself, a neediness that repels those you are missing.

My mind keeps referring back to a podcast I heard about six months ago. In life, we are constantly moving through seasons. And when we hold on to a season, or a person in this situation, what was supposed to be a beautiful graduation, now becomes a messy and painful divorce. When we struggle against what is by attempting to explain it or understand it, we prolong the suffering. That is not to say we cannot grieve, because we must. An end of a season or the end of a relationship is no different than the end of a life; we must grieve the loss. Grief is a natural, necessary process and one in which has no fixed timeline. So instead of wishing for them to re-enter your life or to understand their intentions, be grateful and commemorate the interactions you shared and the purpose they served, whilst allowing yourself the space to grieve their absence.

I have a theory that the reason we still feel pain or bitterness or resentment about a certain situation or person is because there are still lessons to be learned from that experience. Often times I believe that is the reason we cannot let go of our past because we are still learning from it. This theory has held true for many of my most painful experiences in my life and I believe it is why I cannot let go of my collegiate experience, nor of the last girl I was seeing. I have not learned all there is to learn from my pain, but I know the learning is still constant. And I know this because I feel it within my heart as it slowly begins to soften and re-open towards others.

I am currently in the process of reading The Journal of a Solitude by May Sarton and within some of her early pages is the excerpt, “So sometimes one has simply to endure a period of depression for what it may hold of illumination if one can live through it, attentive to what it exposes or demands.” My understanding of this is that it is within stillness in which answers will arise. But answers cannot be provided unless one has first endured a period of depression, a period of learning and struggle. Because it is within these struggles that our deficiencies become illuminated, that it highlights where we are still stuck.

Pema Chödrön writes about this too in her book When Things Fall Apart. She talks about how when we are struggling, we feel we need something to grasp onto. We do not like not having reference points, or not being able to understand, but it is within this uncertainty that we find our answers. It is when we no longer hold on, when we choose to let go, that we come to understand. It is within this liminal space that we allow ourselves to see situations as they are, rather than what we want them might be. In uncertainty, and in stillness, our heart speaks loudest.

Over the past few months, I have struggled tremendously. But I find myself now nearing the other side. The heaviness in my heart is lifting, and lessons from my struggles are being understood. I realise that I could have saved myself much angst if I just sat within my pain and uncertainty, instead of attempting to explain and understand it. For the understanding comes when the storm has passed and clarity in one’s perception is restored. And May Sarton articulates this beautifully by stating that real life exists in solitude, in the opportunity to explore and discover what is happening or has happened. So allow yourself this space and uncertainty and you will find the answers you seek.

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