A dear client recently lamented how tired she was of hating her body. This is a common experience, certainly among women but increasingly among men as well ~ the rejection of one’s own earthly vessel, followed by the exhaustion that comes from both rejecting the body and rejecting the rejection. Can you feel the endless loop of this? In order to overcome something we don’t like, we all too often shift into disliking ourselves for the disliking. It is like a snake eating its own tail. Popular culture tells us that the best way to support positive body image (or positive self-image of any kind) is to replace our negative self-talk with positive self-talk. Unfortunately, for most of us this maintains an atmosphere of rejection. One voice yells, “I hate myself!” Another retorts, “I love myself!” Each voice grows louder and louder until we find ourselves engaged in an all-out civil war, our bodies&hearts the battlefield, our souls the collateral damage.
In order to truly heal negative self-image, we must instead learn to cultivate an attitude of total acceptance ~ an internal stance that allows each experience to arise and pass through us, a loving witness to All That Is. From this place, nothing is rejected ~ including the part of us that rejects, including the part of us that rejects the rejection. All resistance dissolves. This is self-acceptance. This is unconditional love. This is healing.
I was driving in my car recently, thinking about how to understand the difference between pain and suffering, when it started to rain. I mean REALLY rain. It was torrential. And windy. And cold. The wind was whipping the rain in every direction, so much so that it was hard to see very far. Outside, in this pouring, driving rain, I saw a woman ~ soaked to the bone, running, gripping an umbrella that had been literally blown inside-out, every muscle in her face and body contracted in resistance to the rain.
And I thought to myself, “THIS is the difference between pain and suffering.”
. . . .Pain is getting soaked in a cold torrential downpour. Suffering is gripping with tension to a broken, useless umbrella.
. . . Pain is unpleasant, uncomfortable, or unwanted experience. Suffering is everything we do to avoid feeling pain.
. . . Pain is an inevitable. Suffering is optional.
My path to becoming a mindfulness-based therapist grew from an deepening understanding that all of our attempts to avoid pain actually lead to suffering, which is a great realization, but then, what’s the alternative? Instead of avoiding and resisting our experience, we learn to be present to it. And this is the key to eliminating suffering because when are no longer resisting what is happening, there is space to be alive. We realize that there is a wholeness inside of us that is vast and spacious enough to hold even the most painful experiences. We learn that we are so much bigger than our pain. We learn to notice the beauty of the rain.