3 Steps to Transform Suffering

We all experience suffering at some point in our lives. Rather than trying to avoid it, we can find ways to move through it with grace. Vandita Kate Marchesiello, Kripalu Historian and a longtime Kripalu faculty member, offers three key steps to transform suffering through cultivating self-compassion.

Recognize the source.

The first step is to recognize what is causing your suffering, a practice Vandita refers to as “noting.” Observe and take note of what factors, events, or situations in your life are bringing you down.

Understand your capacity to overcome suffering.

The next step is understanding and accepting that you have the power to overcome your suffering—as the old saying goes, “Pain is inevitable, suffering is optional.” We all face a period of grieving when we experience something painful (a death, a breakup, a job loss, etc.), and the length of time during which we feel that pain varies according to the person and situation. When we get stuck carrying around the pain for a long period, though, it becomes suffering, and can have serious negative consequences for our mental and physical health. But we can choose to make the choice to be compassionate to ourselves and leave the suffering behind.

Make the commitment to transform your suffering.

Once you open your heart and mind to the realization that you can let go of your suffering and move on, you’re ready to take the third step: making a commitment to transforming your suffering into self-compassion.

“A powerful way to transform your suffering,” Vandita says, “is through presence—focusing your awareness on the present moment rather than dwelling on past regrets or worrying about what the future holds.” Mindful presence can be cultivated with meditation or meditative experiences, like a favorite hobby or activity. As few as three to five minutes of meditation each day can help turn your focus away from thought spirals about daily stressors and ground you in the here and now. Journaling can help with presence as well; taking time for self-reflection and visualizing what you can do to embrace self-love is a great way to plant the seeds of compassion in your heart.

“When you are able to live compassionately and let go of suffering and self-judgment, you are far more capable of showing compassion toward others,” Vandita emphasizes. Your thoughts and feelings begin to align with your actions, and you become open to embracing empathy, listening, presence, and kindness—some of the key attributes of compassion. Then, you are more fully able to practice thoughts of kindness, speak words of kindness, and offer acts of kindness to yourself and others.

By taking steps to recognize what causes our suffering, understanding that we have the ability to overcome that suffering, and mustering the strength to leave suffering behind, we cultivate a life of compassion.