Suffering Twice

March 18th, 2013

“You desire to know the art of living, my friend? It is contained in one phrase: make use of suffering.”

–        Henri-Frédéric Amiel



Many people suffer in two ways from a problem or challenge. Firstly, there is the reason they think they are suffering; that is, the symptoms or life situation that they present as the problem. The second is their attitude and assumptions about it.




It is the latter that causes them to suffer twice. What can we do about that? Well, as this is after all, the Conscious Health blog it would be remiss of me to not suggest that the first step would be to become conscious of what we are doing – how we are adding to our suffering unnecessarily.


Here is quick story to illustrate another approach to ‘suffering’:


A few years ago a remarkable case made the news in Israel about two blind brothers who were convicted and sentenced to 2 years in jail over computer hacking crimes. A short time after their release they created a legal business with the sheriff that arrested them and were very successful.


This of course brought them to the attention of the media. An interviewer referred to their jail term and how this must have been a time of hardship and self-doubt before their remarkable recovery. “Oh, we were never in jail.” was their bemused response. “Sure, we enjoyed a few years of free room and board to plan our next business venture but we were never in jail.”


Now lest the reader think they enjoyed a luxury stay as celebrity inmates I should mention that they were put in separate cells and could only communicate with each other through concrete walls by using a coin to tap out their conversations – in Morse code.



“Why me? Why now? Why this?”


why me oh lord


The next time we are facing a health or life situation issue, take a look at how much time and energy we are devoting to worrying about everything around the problem itself. The self-victimization of: “Why me? Why now? Why this?” –  only adds to our anxiety and does little to resolve the problem, let alone benefit from it.


How might we benefit from suffering? Well, we could begin by using this time more wisely and asking ourselves a few simple questions:


  1. What might I stand to gain from this situation? It is most common to focus on what we lose when we are experiencing difficulties but it may well be an opportunity we wouldn’t ordinarily have allowed ourselves to choose. If life is hindering us every time we try one direction maybe we should consider another.
  2. What might I already be gaining from this? Illness, suffering and being victimized by situations may exist in our life because they are already serving a purpose. We saw in a previous blog (click here) how, in some cases illness can be used to avoid more uncomfortable decisions we are not taking – even to the point of threatening our life.
  3. What might I be trying to tell myself? Instead of guilt, blame or self-pity we could also choose to congratulate ourselves that part of us at least is smart enough to give us a wake-up call about something  – something we are not (yet) aware of – or perhaps actively ignoring in our life. Some symptoms are a tap on the shoulder; others, a baseball bat over the head! It pays to listen to the subtle signals lest the unsubtle ones come calling.


What are symptoms then? [1]


This suggests that symptoms may have some function other than just alerting us to a physical problem. Many times in this blog series I have mentioned that energy (‘chi’) also takes the form of conscious awareness – which even includes the parts of us that are unconscious. This unconscious energy is always finding ways to become conscious in us. One such way is physical suffering. This is less a moral question and more one of human nature. We could of course come to greater awareness through objective self-investigation, curiosity and joy. It is just that us humans tend to search harder for answers when we are confronted by physical and emotional pain and resistance than when the ‘living is easy’.


Like a bodybuilder using weight resistance to grow stronger we can learn to use every situation – even the resistance of suffering – to grow in ourselves. That is why we do not need to suffer twice. The first is the problem itself. It is what it is – right now at least. The second however is ignorance of the tools we have at our disposal.


happy weight lifter


Worst and Best Case Scenarios


What is the worst case scenario of understanding symptoms to raise our awareness about ourselves? Well, it just may be that we find we are choosing one form of suffering instead of some other choice that we are not prepared to make just yet. That is good to know. We can then better accept our situation with equanimity. The current situation is as good as we can do for the time being. If and when our fear of change becomes less than our dislike for our current suffering then change will be possible. Our symptoms will have served their purpose and we will no longer ‘need’ our suffering anymore.


The best case scenario is that we experience that ‘aha!’ moment when we make the connection between what our symptoms are trying to tell us and how we have been working against ourselves. This is not about guilt or blame. It is a moment of empowerment. If we can co-create one situation unconsciously then we can certainly create another one with conscious awareness.


Till we all can co-create another Monday without the need to suffer from it,


[1]For a more detailed discussion of this question you can click here


Those in Stockholm wishing to learn more about the fascinating connections between the mind and the body are welcome to Jeremy’s upcoming Conscious Health series on five consecutive Monday evenings beginning February 25th. For details, click here



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