I spent my childhood trying to understand it’s purpose. I found it disturbing to watch nature take the life of insects and small animals slowly and wantonly. A mouse that convulsed before dying, a snake that was run over and lived between worlds while a portion of its belly was suckered to the road. Images such as these completely haunted and invaded my days as a child. It was difficult to watch animals suffer while death lingered. I waited anxiously for something to change. And often, death did not come swiftly. Death itself seemed such an unpredictable and merciless mystery to my young mind.
However, suffering is one of the few things besides death that we actually share with all other humans. I have suffered, you have suffered, the Queen has suffered, the Instagram influencer has suffered, and the librarian too… We all deal with our suffering differently. We may ignore or hide it, but what most people have done is compare it.
The catch is that there is no sliding scale to suffering. When we compare our obstacles, challenges or losses to other people’s, it’s usually because we want to avoid dealing with it. When we tell ourselves, ‘” well at least I don’t have it as bad as Jacquie….” all we’ve actually done is discredit our own challenges, obstacles and sadness and shifted the burden on to Jacquie. Now she will carry the burden of having it worse than us!
The false thinking is in believing it makes us stronger when we are able to pity the difficult circumstances of others as greater than our own, it doesn’t. What it does is keep us stuck because it means we never have to look at the reality or depth of our challenges. We never have to sit in our own sadness for too long and actually work with owning our own feelings of distress. It reduces us, as humans and as people in relationship. Comparing our suffering to the suffering of others does the opposite of grow us as compassionate people as long as we deflect and marginalise our own pain. We need to process our own distressing feelings.
No one has it easy. Everyone is fighting a battle that we know nothing about, but no-ones suffering is so bad that it somehow eliminates ours. We can become liberated from each bout of suffering as it arises, by sitting with it, and by allowing and accepting the challenges in our lives. We can also accept support from others to navigate our suffering, without pretending it doesn’t exist because someone ‘has it worse’.
As with death, we need to lean IN to our suffering, and be prepared to do the work that it takes to heal. Being an authentic human requires us to own our stuff.