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by Irene E. Speiser 

The modern Western world encourages escape and relief from all pain, both physical and emotional, by using over-the-counter pain killers or prescription medicines. Some people resort to self-medication, abusing alcohol or drugs. As a result of this prevailing cultural attitude, our internal responses to suffering of any kind are usually formed around the avoidance of pain.

In the case of emotional pain and suffering, responses like blame, cynicism, denial, paranoia and revenge are all attempts to put the pain “out there”, to be rid of it somehow, to find relief as quickly and as conveniently as possible. However, there is an alternative to the prevailing attitude – though it is usually uncomfortable. The alternative suggests leaving emotional wounds open, learning to stay with the discomfort and suffering, and engaging with the story that is attempting to emerge. This is not about dramatic self-pity or martyrdom; rather, it is about attending to whatever may be coming into consciousness, even when it entails intense emotional pain.

Betrayal can be seen as an awakening from innocence. This is always painful because our memories and/or fantasies are of a golden time in childhood, a time before pain, before betrayal, before wounding. Yet our emotional wounds can serve as sacred openings into an experience of something other than the personal/human dimension: the experience of a larger story.

If we adopt this approach, we can respond to the suffering of our betrayals and woundings with attention and curiosity. We can ask ourselves a series of soulful questions: “What is the meaning of this?” “Whom does this serve?” “Who or what is speaking through this?” “What great story is unfolding?”

This is not about embarking on an intellectual inquiry in order to avoid the pain of betrayal and wounding; rather, it is about attending to whatever is arising from these questions and moving deeply into the experience of suffering. Inner focussing is an important part of this process: attending to the felt sense of the emotional pain, to the sensations in the body and to the physical experience of the suffering. This enables our attention to go deeper so we can focus on how we habitually respond to betrayal and wounding, how exactly we experience suffering, where in our body we experience it, and what images, memories and symbols arise from this experience.

Our relationship with emotional pain and suffering needs to be examined and made conscious; then true healing can begin.