It’s that feeling in the pit of your stomach when you say goodbye to the one you love or when you massively fail at something important to you. As the blood rushes to your ears and chills settle their way down your spine, you dread the future suffering that the situation at hand will surely cause. It is this precise feeling that was rekindled somewhere deep inside of me today as I was listening to Eckhart Tolle’s second book, A New Earth. But that rekindling didn’t bring with it the same pain I once felt, it only reminded me what that pain truly meant.
In all of our lives we go through some sort of suffering… And for each of us it is different. A family member is diagnosed with a life threatening illness, an old friend dies, or there’s a pink slip on our desk on some dreary Monday morning… Whatever it may have been for you, at the time it may have seemed like the worse thing that could have happened. Most recently for me, my suffering began at an airport terminal in San Francisco, as I said goodbye to my closest loved ones, along with everything that I had ever known. Of course, coming here to Korea was a very exciting step for me, but the suffering that came along with the goodbyes honestly still lingers even to this day… The fire still burns..
On the other hand, I have changed a great deal since I have been here. I have become more spiritual, started taking better care of my body, started reading more, and enriched many relationships in my life. The suffering that I have endured has brought about great positive change in me. And so, when I heard the following quote in Tolle’s book today, I felt compelled to share it and its meaning to me here:
“The fire of suffering is the light of consciousness.”
When he uses the word consciousness, he does not mean it in the conventional sense. Instead, it is representative of an alert awareness of our “being” and the “being” of all things around us. Everything on this earth has a consciousness… We all came from the same place. Whether you decide to call it God, the Universe, atoms, or Bugs Bunny, really makes no difference. The point is that we are all human beings, not human doings. It is the life force within us that unites us and makes us who we are. And it is the vibrations we give off to others that determine the course of our life. We are not individual boats floating on a vast ocean… We are the ocean, and our life stories are the boats.
The suffering that burns within all of us is fueled by those seemingly terrible things that happen in our life situations. Have you ever known someone who survived cancer and went on to live a life of great purpose and strength? Has the passing of someone close to you ever helped you see what truly matters to you in life and therefore live a better one? Has the personal suffering you went through after a great failure ever motivated you to pursue your next goal with such voraciousness that you went well beyond achieving it? If any of these situations strike a chord for you, then you are living proof of the fact that the fire of suffering is the light of consciousness.
THE TAKEAWAY: It is easy for us to get caught up in the pain and self pity that suffering carries with it. I know probably 95% of my life thus far has been a testament to that fact. But when we step outside of ourselves for just a moment, and look back, it becomes obvious the we have a choice whenever suffering is conferred upon us. We have the choice to allow the fire to burn until it consumes us… or we have the choice to use it to light our way. Now that you know my answer, I will ask you the same question: How will you use your suffering?