Your flavour of suffering

What flavour is your suffering?

Photo by Larm Rmah on Unsplash

One long-weekend summer morning at 7:30 a.m. I found myself and 4000 other enthusiasts lining up around the block of the Vancouver Convention Centre for a day of speakers and inspiration. I had received the ticket as a freebie included in the price of another seminar I attended a few weeks earlier to see Sherry Strong speak.

I had skimmed the day's speaker list, but wasn't really paying attention. I knew that Tony Robbins was the headliner, and assumed he would be starting or ending the day with, I figured, an hour-long presentation.

Oh how wrong I was. After a full and intense day of speakers--some which resonated deeply, all that I found interesting--Tony took the stage, announcing he would try to pack his multi-day long presentation into a mere 4 and a half hours. Whaaaaaat??

Of course, I'd heard of Tony Robbins, but my knowledge of his work (outside of Shallow Hal) came from watching I Am Not Your Guru on Netflix, a film I found fascinating, but was not completely comfortable with.

I ended up being so glad I was there--and of course, felt that I had been guided to the day. It was energetic, inspirational, and really a whole lot of fun. (He started the day basically expressing the ACIM core principle that the goal is to turn fear into love, so that certainly helped win me over.)

One of the exercises that particularly stayed with me was an invitation for us to describe our particular flavour of suffering. For me that phrase resonated as the perfect balance of working to precisely identify the suffering, while acknowledging that we are each choosing the flavour.

Once identified, we were to, with as much detail as possible, describe the circumstances when we felt the suffering. The final step was to define a behavior to use as a replacement for the suffering when we found ourselves in that circumstance.

The two flavours of suffering I focused on were my fear of negative judgement, and how I easily becoming defensive. (Very related, of course, those two.)

I feel deep shame, often far greater than the actual situation warrants, when I am feeling judged, when I stop myself from acting for fear of judgement, or when I am judging myself harshly. During the exercise, the phrase that came to mind to substitute, or lean into, was, "Love flows to me easily and freely." I figure it is hard to feel harshly judged and deeply loved at the same time.

For defensiveness, I can clearly call up the emotions of anger and frustration that arises; it is like I'm a small child yelling, "but that is unfair!" or whining "I tried my best." (Oh, the pickles I've led myself into, the situations I've made so much worse, by my defensiveness.) My replacement mode is to be curious. "You think I've let you down; can we explore that further?" "I've clearly made a mistake; how has this impacted you, and what is the best way for us to move forward?"

I find work presents frequent opportunities to both recognize flavours of suffering and to practice shifting them, especially if, like me, your suffering stems from reactions to imperfection. As all businesses are basically mistake factories, there are endless invitations to observe and practice the teachings over and over again--and again, and again--until the lesson is learned.

And yet. An expression of the spiritual work I'm doing is an understanding that practicing the steps are not enough. Diving into the flavour of suffering is really about diving into the fear that powers the behaviour that results in suffering. We are seeking the realm of cause, not effect.

So once we have explored and are brave enough to name the fear--the fear of being unlovable, the fear of disappointing, the fear of our true selves being seen--what next? Deep and complete love and compassion. And through love and compassion, forgiveness. So much compassion and forgiveness is needed, because each of our approaches to situations were rational and stood us in good stead at one point on our journey. They protected us, and were undoubtedly reinforced by family and relationships and our work.

With gratitude and forgiveness we acknowledge the behaviour, and with gratitude shift away so we can experience what is in our highest interest now. And the above exercise certainly is a good one to help get us there.

We have work in this world to do--you and I, and every single one of us. Our suffering is blocking our path, and blocking our work. So I invite you to explore what your flavour of suffering is, and then create a path for change that is steeped in love, compassion and forgiveness.

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