Turn Suffering into Grace with Mindfulness

Turn Suffering into Grace with Mindfulness

The ability to turn suffering into grace is a life skill. But, what exactly does this constitute in the short and long-term? How does this benefit? Does this mean there’s no space for grieving? If we make friends with suffering, can suffering become our friend later? I often reflect on these questions. Listening to an audio clip of Ram Dass earlier this week made me examine four strategies to turn this to our advantage.

1. “Allow it to be” 

I am not a fan of suffering. But as a student of mindfulness, one of the lessons I learned was to simply ‘allow it to be’. My earliest experience of this lesson was when I lost my mother. I was 21 and grief-stricken when she died. As I sat in a corner and cried quiet tears, someone said to me: “…please don’t cry…” The gentle comment was well-meant but mis-timed. Instead of an acknowledgement of pain, what I got instead, was denial of its existence.

In the short-term, it’s harder to stay with the pain. It’s easier to seek immediate refuge in friends, and family. And sometimes, in escape routes that don’t necessarily serve us. Instead of wishing it away or fighting the wave of grief or pain, what would happen if you allowed it to exist? Author, psychologist, and teacher at Harvard UniversityProf. Tal Ben-Shahar says: accept suffering as part of being human. He reminds us that when we give ourselves the permission to be human, the permission to experience the full gamut of human emotion, we open ourselves up to positive emotions as well.

2. Reflect on the learning to find grace

It is true that we grow from a place of strength. It is also true that grace and resilience come from suffering. Suffering helps us reflect on who we really are and what we are capable of. Potential questions to ask can include the following:

  1. What am I learning about myself through this crisis?
  2. What lessons from the past can shine the light on the present?
  3. Which muscle is this event likely to strengthen in me?
  4. How can I find grace amidst what seems like carnage?
  5. What is the one, baby step I can take to move forward?
  6. Five years from now, if I looked at this event, how would I have grown?
  7. How do I want to feel about this, a month from now?
  8. How will this make me stronger?
  9. What support systems can I create for myself in the here and now? 
  10. How is this changing my mindset and values?
  11. And my favorite one: How do I transform from being a worrier to a warrior? Speaker, Neuroscience Expert, and my favorite coach, Colleen Lightbody shares this message in her powerful TEDx Talk called: A Journey of a Worrier to a Warrior.

3. Write a Gratitude Journal 

This ritual is like a Systematic Investment Plan (SIP). Everyday, if you could think of 3 things you are grateful for and write them in your journal, imagine what that investment would look like one year from now? You would have created 1000 and more reasons that made you feel grateful in an entire year. When you multiply the years, what would that compounding interest look like? How would that serve you in times of suffering? Imagine the grace that you would have allowed into your life, by becoming a window instead of a mirror!

A gratitude journal isn’t always about the big things. It could be the little things. Yesterday, I was grateful to witness the most astonishing range of flowers and colors at the annual, horticultural festival in the Lalbagh Botanical Garden, in Bangalore. I was thrilled to have spent time in such pristine greenery. And finally, I was grateful for my feet that supported me through the many hours of walking.

4. Create or find purpose that serves you 

In a crisis, seeking the support of friends and family isn’t a bad thing. Sometimes, it is necessary for survival. Our brains are wired for companionship because we are social beings. But you can only go to the well so many times. At some point, you have to create or find your own purpose. The beam of light that keeps you going, in the darkest hour.

Mark Schaefer wrote a compelling, must-read post on mental toughness, personal crisis, and the role of grit in your success. The key highlight in that post for me was: “Focus on Purpose”. At that time, I was going through a deep, personal crisis myself. And his post offered strength, courage, and reminded me to get back to my purpose. I had hit rock bottom and everything in my life had turned upside down. No friend or family could create happiness for me. I had to find a way out and my purpose, once again, became my saviour.

If you’re going through a crisis today, I hope this post has offered hope and strategies to cope better. What practices can you explore to turn suffering into grace?

Anitha Aswath | Coach, Consultant, BloggerAnitha Aswath is a Senior Leadership Coach, Team Consultant, and Global Facilitator. She has a Master’s Degree in Clinical Psychology and is trained by The Marcus Buckingham Company in StandOut and Strengths Coaching for Business Leaders. She is currently pursuing Brain-Based Coaching Certification from the NeuroLeadership Institute. An avid photographer, blogger, aviation enthusiast, Anitha is also a student of Indian Classical Music of the Hindustani style.

In an illustrious career spanning 20 years, she has served organizations like General Electric, IBM, Goldman Sachs, Target, and Cisco in regional and global capacities. As a Leadership Coach, she works with clients from all over the world to serve, teach, and enable the success of leaders and their teams.


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