Words of Wisdom 023: On suffering

Suffering occurs when we experience what we don't want to experience. Or when we anguish over what we don't have.

It is so enticing to avoid our pain. It is a universal desire to deny our suffering, to run from the reality that we will die.

Yet suffering seems to be about the only way we learn to pay attention. I don't think we can really mature without looking deeply at our pain.

While it is necessary to accept the difficulty and pain of life, it also does not need to dominate our view. If pain is driving the bus, everyone onboard is miserable.

We can seek to avoid suffering by projecting it onto others. Our focus becomes on how others have wronged us. How evil the other group identity is. How right our group is.

We can try to distract ourselves to death. If you can't spend time alone, doing nothing, with no sound, you have not learned to suffer well, and you won't have peace.

We can feed our need to try to be right. We can withdraw from taking responsibility. We can deny culpability.

To diminish suffering:

Adjust what you expect. Learn to accept pain.

Find meaning beyond your small self and only focus on fulfilling your own needs.

Get in touch with your feelings. Feel and deal with it.

Embrace the adventure of uncertainty.

Pay attention to your desire.

Think, write, and talk about what you are grateful for.

Find the middle way of fortitude.

Quickly admit it when you are wrong and when you make mistakes. But don't grovel.

Be patient with yourself and with others.

Deepen your presence daily so you can experience anxiety and peace.

Take action in line with the highest values.

Sacrifice for others out of joy.

Then when you walk through the valley of the shadow of death, it will be worth it.


"We were not prepared to be imperfect. We don't have enough grace inside to anesthetize us against the pain of our own badness. It is horrible enough to feel sin, but the guilt of the sin is even worse. We feel hatred and separation instead of love and connection; we feel others' envy instead of their appreciation and gratitude; we feel sad and angry instead of joyous; we panic and worry instead of feeling safe and secure; we feel shame and self-hatred instead of love and self-confidence; and finally, we feel utter fear and terror of God, instead of overwhelming awe and love. All of these feelings touch on issues of good and bad; to be emotionally and spiritually successful, we must be able to deal with them. If we can't co-exist with good and bad, we will have a hard time living in this world."

Henry Cloud, Changes that Heal

"Be patient toward all that is unsolved in your heart and try to love the questions themselves...Live the questions now. Perhaps you will gradually, without noticing it, live along some distant day into the answer."

Rainer Maria Rilke, Letters to a Young Poet


What do I need to pay attention to?

In the midst of my difficulties, what am I grateful for?

What pain can I be more curious about?

What meaning am I making of my suffering?


Learn to sit with your suffering, and you can learn to endure the agony of others' pain rather than be consumed by it or try to control it.

If you're picking up what I'm putting down, spread the word about Words of Wisdom.

Live Wisely,


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