From Suffering to Strength with Homeopathy
Nobody likes to suffer. Even before we’re born we are exposed to our mothers’ stress hormones; we startle from loud noises even whilst inside the womb and are powerless to prevent drugs, chemicals or other toxins to enter our developing bodies through the umbilical cord. From the moment we’re born into the world, suffering is inevitable. First there are sensations such as hunger, cold, heat, loneliness, fear and overstimulation when we are tiny babies. Maybe we have colic, or other digestive disturbances as our tummies get accustomed to working for the first time. Many new babies cry for hours on end. Imagine the shock of being born into such a harsh and noisy world after the relative calm and safety of the womb!
Later, as we grow and learn the suffering becomes more complex. Nevertheless, as infants and toddlers we possess a natural ability to smile and laugh most of the time despite periods of suffering. Not getting everything we want, especially if it’s sitting right in front of us, is a terrible slight to our egos. But as small toddlers we also possess the ability to let off emotional steam by having a good cry. We don’t yet feel self-conscious, nor are we held back by what people think of us. We don’t seek the approval of others until we are older, most likely by then having lost that delicious sense of unconditional love. I always wonder at that ability of very small children, to just be themselves and express anything and everything loud and clear without the edit button society deems so important for older people.
Don’t get me wrong. Children need reigning in on a regular basis so they don’t grow into petty dictators, and if we didn’t learn how to curb our destructive reactions we would all be hitting each other over the head with sticks and throwing things and having tantrums all the time (I know a few adults who can throw a great wobbly, and I’m not bad at them myself). But one thing that really strikes me as remarkable about small children is that they show incredible resilience, despite and possibly because of their tantrums. When a child is in a situation where there is great stress, they tend to act it out in their behaviour and through their body, showing changes of appetite, sleep patterns and the way they act. I actually wonder if this acting out isn’t healthy in a way. Just as crying releases toxins, a good tantrum is bound to do the same thing. It’s more a matter of teaching the child how to channel those intense emotions appropriately. It’s a fine balance between letting off steam and taking it out on everyone around you. Here is a great article exploring the resilience of children and how to nurture it as a parent.
The art of suffering
So what do tantrums, tears and smiles have to do with suffering, I hear you ask? Well, I have a feeling that children deal with suffering a whole lot better than adults do, for the very reason that kids express themselves in such a spontaneous way. They don’t tend to hold it in their bodies like we adults do, out of embarrassment or fear that our response to stress will be judged when faced with adverse circumstances. We smile and pretend we’re OK until we can’t pretend any more, and then it’s called a breakdown. If we complain or talk about our problems it’s often seen by the people around us as inconvenient or uncomfortable. Besides, they don’t want to have to deal with other people’s problems. They have their own to deal with. Kids on the other hand just act it all out, and often the adults around them will see that as cause for punishment instead of trying to find out what’s lying beneath the behaviour.
To my mind, if children are so well equipped to deal with suffering, this means suffering is actually a necessary part of growing up. Adults have just lost the art of dealing with it. I’m not suggesting we have tantrums every five minutes as soon as we feel any kind of suffering. It’s just that we’ve been taught, over and over again, that approval from others is way more important than what we want. Sometimes that’s absolutely appropriate. It becomes less than appropriate when many of us have taken it that one step further and mistakenly assumed that approval from others is even more important than what we need. Not speaking out constructively about small things that we need makes us resentful, and if it becomes long term, it sets us up for…. you guessed it….. long term suffering!
So what’s the point of suffering?
Sometimes even if we have fabulous communication skills and strong boundaries and boundless awareness, suffering can’t be avoided. Situations get thrown at us that test us to our very limits. Many of us have asked ourselves why a particular crisis had to happen, especially one which throws our lives into chaos. I have found it particularly frustrating that certain smaller crises seem to repeat themselves over and over in various ways, until something clicks into place and I understand an aspect of myself I didn’t before. Sometimes I’m a little slow and it takes years and many re-runs. Others only seem to need once or twice, and then I get the message and move on. The main thing I’ve noticed about every occasion that has caused me suffering, is that brings to attention a vulnerability or fear, or perceived lack in myself. If I’m relatively willing to face that fear or vulnerability head on and accept the situation for what it is, the suffering ends up being relatively mild and I will learn speedily from the situation.
If it’s a deep seated, suppressed issue I don’t want to know about and wish to avoid at all costs, then I find the suffering will increase in intensity with every subsequent crisis until there’s no denying it any more. It’s almost like something inside me is attracting people, situations and even seemingly random events in order to harass me until I listen to that thing inside and surrender to learning that lesson, no matter how painful it feels to learn it. The ironic thing is that it’s often less painful just to turn and face the original issue itself than the effort of avoiding it and subsequent second hand suffering in the first place. While I can pretend to ignore these things for a little while, the cost of doing so gets higher and higher with each inch I bury my head deeper into the sand.
Where and how do we suffer?
Suffering can happen on any level of the personality, whether it’s in the form of a physical ailment or injury, an emotional issue or occurrence, or in our mind in the form of prolonged negative thoughts about a certain situation or disease. Whether suffering is labelled as a particular syndrome or disease or has no diagnostic basis, it makes little difference to the sufferer unless such a label offers hope for the end of that suffering. But sometimes there’s just no easy way out.
The pharmaceutical industry has done much to change our attitudes toward suffering. I’d like to use the example of a child having a fever to demonstrate just how much we have been influenced by having readily available drugs on hand to alleviate suffering in the short term. When a small child has a fever, we as the parents feel powerless and will do whatever we can to help them feel better. It’s a perfectly natural response. The first thing many parents reach for will be paracetamol or some other substance to help reduce pain, inflammation and fever. We are inundated with advertising giving us images of dedicated and concerned parents bending over new babies, with the reassuring image of some kind of paracetamol brand proclaiming to have been trusted for many years. How can we not be convinced beyond a doubt that administering such a miracle drug at the first sign of a fever is not only the right thing to do, but cruel and hard hearted if we don’t?
But recent research now suggests that administering paracetamol or some other kind of antipyretic to bring down a mild fever is not only compromising the body’s own defences to an infection, it also puts a strain on the liver and kidneys, which are already working overtime to process and dispose of the toxins produced by that infection. Surely this means that the use of these drugs is not only unnecessary, but potentially setting up the situation to become even worse in the long term? This may even lead to some kind of longer term, chronic issue that will make the child suffer for longer. So out of the colourful and reassuring advertisements on television or the logic above, what do you believe? And how next time will you treat your son or daughter as they lie in discomfort with their next fever? Homeopathy offers an alternative to help alleviate suffering and still reap suffering’s benefits.
In the above instance, there are many ways a child with a fever can be naturally supported and helped to feel a little better. Homeopathic treatment is one of those ways, and has been used throughout its history time and time again for this very situation. There are also many, many other situations of suffering where homeopathy can help. In fact, the possibilities are endless! But the way a homeopath helps people who are suffering is different to the way pharmaceutical drugs work. Homeopathy looks into the cause of that suffering, and what a person needs to gain from it, supporting the process of healing or growth at the same time. In the case above, of a child with a fever, that child stands to strengthen his/her immune system from the rigours of the fever. Not only that, the antibodies produced in the act of fighting off the infection will go into the immune system’s memory bank and be brought out in defence if a future, similar infection happens to cross paths with that child. It is also reported by many parents that a disease or sickness involving a fever can sometimes stimulate further development of the child. Many parents will say their small toddler underwent some kind of fast- tracked, developmental progress after recovering from an illness such as Chicken pox or a similar infection involving a fever.
But why do we need suffering?
Just as the body learns to be strengthened if supported in the right way during a fever, the emotions and the mind do as well. Imagine if there were no difficult or challenging situations in the world. It would be so boring we’d subconsciously create problems just to keep life interesting! Difficult situations challenge us and of course while they’re happening we only wish to be back in our comfortable rut, even if that rut wasn’t exactly ideal in the first place. Sometimes we need to be prodded in order to expand our horizons. All of us will be able to relate when I talk of a time in our lives where something occurred that we labelled as negative or catastrophic. Maybe we even felt despair and railed against it, wishing we weren’t in a particular circumstance, only to come out the other end feeling thoroughly shaken up but changed in some way. Maybe the people around us resented that change in us; maybe they celebrated it. Whatever the reaction, these situations and inner experiences that seek to change us will often bring out certain strengths we never imagined we had.
These experiences also encourage us to make connections with other people and reach out to trust those we would never usually consider socialising with. I am a firm believer in the concept that inside all of us we have the tools we need waiting to be used at the right time, including the tools to reach out and find help if needed. And that’s one of the blessings of suffering. If we can take the next step to reach out, it’s often an amazing surprise who comes forward to help, and in the course of dealing with everything life throws at us we can expand our friendships or deepen existing relationships; or cut ties with those who offer more negativity than support.
Resilience through suffering from a homeopathic perspective
Homeopathy offers support and treatment for the individual, rather than focusing on a particular syndrome or diagnosis. Of course, having a diagnosis can be helpful and can contribute to learning more about ourselves, but a diagnosis can also be limiting and too simplistic for some people who don’t necessarily fit inside the typical square. Most homeopaths are just by their very nature accustomed to being a little outside the square in their everyday life, and are often well aware of the role suffering plays in allowing a previously unrecognised part of us to shine. It’s when that suffering becomes set in and we get stuck that homeopathic treatment can be particularly valuable. Just as certain animals whose skins don’t expand as they grow, who must go through a vulnerable period where that skin is shed in order to continue their maturation process, it’s the same with our emotional and mental development. Sometimes we must shed our thickened skin of old thoughts and emotions that no longer serve us. The process of doing this can be painful and most of us automatically resist that change because we don’t know what those changes will bring, and this terrifies us. It’s like facing a form of death. This makes us terribly vulnerable because for a time when we are undergoing change we must stop our previous, comforting habits and see ourselves in a different light, without our previous masks. Unlike preparations that suppress and dampen down the response to such a situation, supportive homeopathy treatment can actually help to bring us through that unfolding in a much more positive way.
The positive side to this process is that once we are through the worst of it, we may be more free to breathe; more able to understand something we never were before. Maybe we have carved out a new way of life for ourselves where we are more discerning; more compassionate, but at the same time less likely to sell ourselves short. So next time you are in the depths of suffering, ask yourself what it is that you need to learn from it. Do your best to find that tiny flutter of light inside that provides warmth and illumination in the darkness. Know that, for whatever reason this suffering has descended upon you, you will find opportunities open that you would never have considered in a million years before such a crisis occurred. And if you feel like you need support, there’s always your local homeopath who may just understand more than you realise.