Struggle without Suffering

struggle without suffering hike 090316

“You are imperfect. You are wired for struggle. You are worthy of love and belonging.” ~ Brene Brown

“Gah! This is so easy for you!”

I look up with exasperation at my long-legged husband standing high on a pile of boulders which is actually the trail we’re hiking. He’s only a yard or two ahead of me but the trail is so steep that his feet are in line with my head. In three big easy steps, he has climbed effortlessly up the huge chunks of rock. Now I have to figure out how to hoist myself up there.

He is my best friend and the love of my life but for a moment in the midst of my struggle, I hate him.

Okay, I don’t really hate him. But in small-minded moments, I get all kinds of cranky watching someone do painlessly what I am staggering to accomplish.

On the trail that day, there were two different struggles going on: my body was struggling with the physical difficulty of clambering up the rocky path and my mind was struggling because that’s not the way I wanted it to be. The first is simply a truth about human life. The second is suffering and it’s a choice.

Suffering is the desire for things to be different than they are. I can grapple with something without getting myself twisted up about how the grappling is going. Struggling without suffering is possible, but me wanting a stride as strong and long as Frank’s is suffering.

Struggle less. ~ My yoga teacher, Mia on Tuesday afternoon
Struggle more. ~ My yoga teacher, Julia on Wednesday afternoon

Two instructions from my two teachers might seem contradictory, but they actually speak to the difference between what it means to struggle and what it means to suffer. Mia invites us to relax our minds about how we think our practice should look or feel while we do the postures. Julia invites us to work past the habits and patterns of our practice and dig in to find our fullest expression of even difficult poses. They both could have said, “Struggle without suffering.”

My mind is so intent on avoiding discomfort that when I’m struggling, it is quick to want it to be easier (like it is for THAT FRANK). In that way, my mind almost always lumps struggle and suffering together. As the Zen guys say, “Pain is inevitable. Suffering is optional.” Our minds might want to make them the same but it’s up to us whether or not they are.

“Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response.
In our response lies our growth and our freedom.” —Viktor Frankl

What would happen if I don’t choose to make struggle and suffering the same thing? What would happen if I allow myself to labor with something (physical, mental or emotional) and see that as part of the human experience rather than something to be avoided? Imagine what we could accomplish, build, create if we were willing to struggle without suffering.

  1. Susan snyder said:

    That was beautiful susan. Wonderful wrapping of the teaching in your experience. Challenging sometimes to find the diff in struggle and suffering. My yoga teacher in Sedona spoke about the pained faces we make when working in a pose or life. I am working through some discomfort, but my contorted face is rarely a true aspect, usually added suffering for my sake!

    • Yes, one teaching around this is can I be in the struggle with an inner smile. Funny when my teacher suggests this and I want to growl! A sure sign of suffering! ❤

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