When we choose to live mindfully, consciously, we understand that living in the moment, being present, feeling grateful, and acknowledging the beauty around us is the Way.

But what do we do with suffering? What about the times when we can’t escape a situation? When the soundproof room of our pain is so secure that not even an outlying clang of joy can relieve us?

This is the suffering that is emotionally, spiritually, and viscerally inescapable and stifling. It forcefully pins us down, body and soul, and demands our attention. “You will look at me!” it screams. “You cannot break free of this!” “I will not let you take a relieving breath of happiness!”

Wise teachers tell us we are always in choice. No matter what the circumstance, we can still choose how to respond. We can decide how we will show up.

But, is this really true? How can we choose anything different from what is, when “what is” is so painful and prominent in our experience? 

And here is where the journey of choice begins. First, we must choose to be fully, fiercely conscious. Consciousness is different from awareness. Yes, we are aware of our pain, obviously we are. It is starring us down, sometimes taking our breath away. But beyond this, can we become conscious observers of our suffering? Can we quiet our bodies and minds, even if only for a few minutes, in order to witness, not identify with, our thoughts? Whether it is through meditation, breathing, or simply closing our eyes for a short while and repeating a mantra or listening to a fan, it is here, in this interior spaciousness and stillness, that we can begin to shift from the one who feels the pain to the one observing it. 

Only in this detachment, however slight or brief it is, can we truly acknowledge where we are is really hard; that we are desperately sad; that we hate feeling this way; AND YET it’s okay. It’s okay, because, in spite of all of this, we have compassion for our hurt, grief-stricken selves. In other words, can we feel our way to speaking kindly to ourselves as we would to a child? “I know it hurts,” we would say. “I’m so sorry this is so tough. You are right to be so sad.” And then, with complete openness and love, we say, “I am here for you. I am here for whatever you need. There is no rush. Take your time.” We don’t run from the pain. We don’t deny it. We don’t bury our heads in the sands of spiritual bypass. We see it. We affirm it. We give it a voice. We free it to be what it is.

It is here, in the messiness and weariness of “what is,” that the space we allow to grow in us invites us to choose yet again. This interior expansion frees us to turn towards Source, the Divine, God, who is always calling us, always inviting us to align with it, even when we are turned away from it in grief. We might not yet be able to fully bask in the light of serenity and joy, but perhaps we can, even if only for a moment at a time, glance at it and give our attention to it. As we do so, ever so slightly, little by little, we turn our gaze away from the frozen pain of what is unwanted and begin to spend a bit more time in the warming, glimmering, life-giving light of relief and hope.

Even if we can’t yet fully bask in the soothing warmth that is freedom from pain or anger or suffering, our time there will increase the more we decide to choose it. The love that we might only be able to at first experience as a mere fleeting spark will indeed grow into all-encompassing purifying flames if we allow it to do so. This great love, this light of creation, of infinite possibilities, undyingly yearns to rest in our hearts. It desires to flow through us, to quell our fears, calm our anxieties, and reconnect us with the goodness and abundance that we have, for a time, forgotten, is our very birthright. 

Why suffering? Because it is here, it is virtually only here, that we break open. We open so fully and deeply in our grief, in our feeling desperately separated from love and oneness, that we are invited, in fact called, to return to them. And it is only when there is nothing else to do, that we indeed choose to do so.

This is life. This is the journey. This is the Way.