Tag Archives: Repression

Suffering 101

I used to think suffering was caused by painful conditions and circumstances in my life. I didn’t realize that, in fact, there is a distinct difference between pain and suffering. After all, the two words are often used together as an indivisible unit — pain-and-suffering — as if we cannot experience pain without suffering. But it turns out we can. And it turns out this distinction is important because often we have no choice whether or not we experience pain, but we do have choice whether or not we suffer.

Definition of Suffering

Suffering is the inner experience of resisting or denying “what is.”

There are two major roads to suffering. The first is when we believe that what is happening (or what we perceive is happening) should not be happening. The second is when we believe something that contradicts Truth at a more essential level, at the level of Reality Itself. Pain, on the other hand, is simply an unpleasant sensory or emotional sensation. I love how Grace Bell expresses the difference between pain and suffering in her blog, Not Minding the Pain. She says, “It hurts, but I’m not upset about it.”

Whether our perception of what is happening is accurate or not, suffering comes when we believe the thought, “It shouldn’t be like this.” If my husband leaves dirty dishes in the sink when I explicitly asked him to wash them, and if I believe he should have washeddirty dishes them, I’ll have an inner experience I might call “annoyance” or “agitation.” I’m suffering because what I believe should be happening is not happening. Notice that if I didn’t believe he should have washed the dishes, I wouldn’t be suffering. My suffering has nothing to do with whether or not he did the dishes, but it has everything to do with if I believe he should have or not. Similarly, I might have an emotion arising within me (like anger), and, due to past conditioning, I believe the (probably unconscious) thought, “Anger is bad. I shouldn’t be feeling anger.” The result is an automatic repression of the emotion. The inner experience we have when repressing emotion in this way will be some form of suffering.

crepuscular raysWe also suffer when we believe something that conflicts with Truth on a more essential level. A simple but profound example is when we believe we are fundamentally flawed or “not good enough” at an intrinsic level. With a little inner reflection, we easily notice the suffering we experience when we believe this profoundly debilitating thought and how it affects our lives in far-reaching ways. When we believe a thought that conflicts with Reality Itself in this way, we will suffer at every level of our being, including physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual. 


If you have been around the block in the self-help world, you’ve probably heard the all-too familiar, “What you resist, persists!” While this may be true, what is resistance exactly? Resistance, in my view, is equivalent to suffering. It is the inner experience we have when we are in internal conflict with “what is.” We could be resisting something happening outside of us (e.g., “I don’t like that my hubby didn’t do the dishes.”) or something happening within us (e.g., “I feel angry, and I shouldn’t feel angry.”)

On our Healing journey, we begin to see that much of what we resist are natural flows of energy within us. For instance, emotion is simply a flow of energy that moves through us like a wave when it is allowed to flow naturally. However, we often learn when we are young that some emotions are wrong or bad to feel, and so we resist (repress) them. It is when that natural flow of energy hits the wall of wavy balljpgresistance within us that we have the inner experience called suffering. Often, this experience is what we might label as something like “anxiety” or “fear” or “panic,” depending upon the intensity of the natural energy trying to move through. (This experience can take many forms, not just anxiety.) Believe it or not, we can also resist energies like “joy,” or “passion,” or “excitement,” because somehow we learned those were wrong to feel when we were young. In this case, we have the same inner experience of suffering (in the form of anxiety or whatever other form it may take) when that energy hits the wall of resistance within us. Again, suffering/resistance occurs when we believe that what is happening should not be happening. If I resist or repress a certain emotion but the reality is the energy of that emotion is present, then I am suffering.

The Cycle of Suffering

Swirl in cepiaNow I’d like to highlight an aspect of suffering not often acknowledged. I said in the beginning of this post that we have choice in whether or not we suffer. From what I shared above, it may seem the choice would be to simply stop resisting “what is.” Indeed, an entire self-help industry has been built upon this premise. But here is something that is often overlooked or denied: If we are suffering, we want it to stop. That might seem obvious, but this is actually one of the most important breakthroughs I have ever had. Let me put it another way: Intrinsic in the nature of suffering is the desire for it to stop. We have no choice in the matter. If we are suffering, we cannot talk ourselves out of wanting it to go away. No amount of contriving and affirming will make that desire disappear. And when we try to make this desire go away — try to stop resisting — we are simply adding yet another layer of resistance (resisting our resistance), thus compounding the issue further. The desire for suffering to stop and the suffering itself are forever linked together. I call this the “cycle of suffering” because being caught in this cycle feels like being caught in a gigantic feedback loop with the same information being regurgitated over and over. And what happens when we have a desire for the suffering to stop? We will try to find ways to make it end. We will search, seek, analyze, plan, experiment, cajole, beg, plead, and try just about anything to make it go away, “heal” it, or “transmute” it. Unfortunately, all of that searching is a part of the suffering itself. It cannot lead to anything other than suffering, even if the conditions we blame the suffering on shift and morph into other forms. This is the “self-help” trap I’ve been caught in most of my life. At least it has kept me busy!

So… What’s Next Then?

When I had this realization, I immediately understood that the only way out of this cycle is to shift our attention to “something else” within us that is not suffering. This can be the hardest thing in the world to do for many reasons. Suffering is extremely compelling. It is addictive. And it is often literally who we think we are. Furthermore, we are convinced that we have to somehow directly address the suffering itself to make it go away. But the truth is, resisting our resistance (suffering) only keeps us in the cycle.

Our choice is not in whether or not we are resisting “what is.” If we are suffering, we are already doing that. Our choice is in where we place our attention next. Just because we are caught in the cycle of suffering doesn’t mean there is nothing else to who we are. Many of us do not realize there is anything else to us. Our entire lives have become almost entirely about trying to control and avoid what we don’t want (suffering).

the journey beginsThe process of Healing begins by noticing there is more to who we are than the cycle of suffering we are caught in, that there is “something else” to us. We can begin to turn our attention toward this broader aspect of ourselves and, grounded in this Resource, form a new relationship with our suffering. When we do this, our suffering will be transmuted. At its core, this is a process of deep self acceptance.

Would you like to read more about the process of Healing? Check out the section on my webpage entitled, What Is Healing?

In Gratitude & Love,

Real Emotion vs. Suffering – Part 1

modern artWhen we were young, many of us learned to believe that certain energies are bad or wrong to feel or experience. These fundamental, natural energies could be called “emotions,” if you define emotion as simply energy in motion. For instance, if we expressed naturally arising energies such as what we call joy, exuberance, or love, and our parents held beliefs that those energies are wrong to express in excess or even wrong to feel at all, they will have attempted to squelch the expression of those energies in us. Likewise, if we expressed energies such as what we call anger or sadness, perhaps our parents believed those energies are harmful and so attempted to squelch their expression as well. When we bought into this — that is, when we ourselves began to believe those energies are wrong to feel — we then began to resist or repress those energies whenever they arose in us. The resistance/repression of those energies then becomes an automatic, unconscious reaction whenever they arise in us. And so now, as adults, we are in a situation where we believe (unconsciously at this point) that these energies arising in us should not be there, which puts us in conflict with the reality that they are there. Our resistance to these naturally arising energies (the clash between our beliefs and reality) is experienced by us as suffering. (If you haven’t read it already, please see What Is Suffering? before moving on so you’ll have a context for how I am describing suffering here.)

freeimages.co.uk medical imagesOften, this kind of suffering takes the form of experiences we might call anxiety, anger/rage, depression/despair, fear, jealousy, restlessness, or any other multitude of unpleasant (or downright awful) experiences. The confusion here is that we often label these experiences as “emotions.” But these forms of suffering are NOT true emotions. Actually, quite the opposite is the case. These states are instead the inner experience of the repression of natural emotion.

Why does this distinction matter? Well, if you have been around the block at all in the self-help world, I’m sure you’ve heard by now how important it is on your Healing journey to “feel your emotions.” (In fact, I talk about this in What Is Healing? as a critical part of the Healing process.) But, the problem is if you think that the rage you keep feeling repeatedly, or the anxiety, or the jealousy, or whatever else, are the emotions everyone is telling you you’re supposed to be feeling, you might be wondering when the healing is going to start happening because you still feel like crap even though you keep feeling all these “emotions” again and again! After all, you are feeling these things… over and over and over and over again… so shouldn’t you be healing by now? Even your psychologist might be encouraging you to keep going down these same rabbit holes, but nothing really seems to be changing in the long run.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe issue here is that you are not actually feeling the energy (the emotion) that you have repressed. Rather, what you are experiencing (repeatedly) is simply what it feels like when you repress that energy. In other words, the rage, or the jealousy, or the anxiety, or whatever, is not the emotion itself, but is rather what it feels like to resist that emotion. This suffering is the inner experience (how it feels to you inside) of the belief that you should not be experiencing an energy that is nonetheless present.

The natural energy (the true emotion), when actually experienced and allowed to move, feels nothing at all like these forms of suffering. In fact, when I feel authentic emotion, it is hard for me to even label it because it is so different than what I’ve been experiencing for so many years! A dandelion 3real emotion, when felt fully, rises in me like a wave, crests, and then naturally dissipates. It is simply an energy wave that moves through me. And, in my experience, on a deep level, it feels good to feel it, no matter what “flavor” the emotion takes.

It is actually very easy to distinguish between states of suffering and the movement of real emotion. States of suffering such as I described above (rage, jealousy, anxiety, etc.) will come in repeating patterns. They will arise over and over and over again, with no real resolution, no matter how much they are “felt.” They will probably escalate over time as well, because more and more emotion is being repressed and building up, thus more and more suffering is present in that repression. In contrast, a real emotion is a one-time deal. It will move through like a wave, and it will do so rather quickly (usually within a couple minutes, although not always). That doesn’t mean a similar emotion won’t arise again, but it won’t feel like it’s the same thing happening over and over again.

The states of suffering we experience and the underlying energy (emotion) being repressed are often related. For instance, the resistance of naturally arising fear might be experienced as repeating cycles of anxiety or terror. The repression of naturally arising grief/sadness might be experienced as chronic depression or despair. The resistance of naturally arising adepresssionnger might be experienced as chronic irritation or rage. The repression of naturally arising envy or inspiration might be experienced as overwhelming jealousy.

Because these states of suffering become repeating patterns that often escalate over time, they will often be labeled as mental disorders such as anxiety disorder, depression, bipolar disorder, paranoia, etc. Eventually, they will begin to manifest physically, and are then diagnosed as “diseases” such as digestive disorders, autoimmune disorders, chronic fatigue, nervous system diseases, cancer, high blood pressure/heart disease, etc.

Perhaps by now you can see that these states of suffering (i.e., the resistance to the emotion) effectively distract us from experiencing the underlying emotion, for we become focused on the unpleasant feelings and “diseases” and on trying to rid ourselves of those feelings, symptoms, or illnesses. Because we believe (usually unconsciously) hypnotizedthat the underlying energies are wrong to feel, the experience of our resistance to them (the anxiety, rage, physical illnesses, etc.) is designed to distract us away from the experiencing of the original emotion. Essentially, we become hypnotized by our own resistance (the suffering). Thus, we enter into the cycle of suffering. (See What Is Suffering?)

The rubber meets the road in your Healing process when you finally turn toward the aspect of you that is suffering and meet it standing in your True Nature. The rage, the anxiety, the jealousy, the illnesses… when these experiences are met with Love rather than animosity, the emotion that is being resisted and repressed will finally be allowed to flow as it was meant to flow. I have found this to be the crux of true Healing.

turtleIn Part 2 of this post (Real Emotion vs. Suffering – Part 2), I’ll be discussing another way in which suffering arises in a form that we often confuse with true emotion. That aspect of suffering takes the form of protective mechanisms that we create in order to protect us from feeling the soul-wrenching pain of some of our most deeply held (and profoundly false) beliefs. Doesn’t that sound fun? Stay tuned!  🙂

In love,