Running as metaphor: how suffering shapes your perception of life and how you can use it to grow

Guest post by Heather
Running as metaphor: how suffering shapes your perception of life and how you can use it to grow
Photo by Ev on Unsplash

I listened to a podcast on my run the other day. It was this amazing woman who ran across India for a cause. She started off as a non-athlete who eventually became an ultra runner and endurance athlete. The theme of the podcast was purpose, perseverance, and the close connection that exists between passion and suffering. The magic that happens when you embrace suffering and seek the impossible. To be willing to suffer for the things you're passionate about. So that podcast led me to thinking about suffering in all its forms and whether it can be turned into a growing experience…

Suffering shapes your perception of life.

Suffering changes your values and priorities.

Suffering gives you depth and compassion.

Suffering teaches you humility.

Suffering changes you.

To genuinely love or be passionate for something is to suffer. Suffering gives meaning to your passion. It gives meaning to your life.

The word suffering is rooted in the Latin word for passion. To genuinely love or be passionate for something is to suffer. Suffering gives meaning to your passion. It gives meaning to your life. From suffering comes growth; it's painful and messy and hard but necessary and we all go through it in varying degrees.

I think there are people who avoid suffering for the most part or who hide from suffering. I think they shy away from passion — they avoid messy. They don't want to suffer, instead they stay within the limits they already know. But suffering is inevitable — letting go of that suffering is the key. If you focus on the hurt and the struggle, you will continue to suffer. If you focus on the lesson you are meant to learn, that's where growth happens. Seeking the impossible and not setting limits is where you find real growth.

The theme of my 30s has been discovering myself. Through this part of my life, my growing phase, I continue to reflect and learn a lot about myself. I had talked before about personal reflection and how looking inward is key to growing. Well, in the midst of that growth I have realized things about myself. I realize I overact, I'm overly sensitive, and I take things too personally. That sensitivity is a blessing and a curse. The sensitivity leads to more suffering but also more love and makes me a bit of a dreamer.

I have come to realize I am some kind of deep-seated, veiled masochist. Whether that's just my nature, a learned behavior, or who I've become over time, I don't know. What I do know is, in some bizarre way, I seek out suffering. The podcast really resonated with me. I am one of those people who take delight in pushing myself too far. I find joy in the heartache of life. I find contentment in pain. I think somewhere hidden in that fact is where my love of running comes from.

As I get older, I look for meaning in all things. Running is no exception. Whether I seek the end result of suffering which is the ability to overcome and grow from it, or the pain itself, I don't know. I do know that connection between suffering and passion is a magical thing.

So this year, like the ones before, I will sign up for more races and push myself further than I have the time before. I will seek out the suffering to find the magic in the pain. I will set big goals and strive to do things I think may be impossible and enjoy the growth that results. I will embrace my passion and suffering because nothing good gets built when life is easy.

  1. I feel very much the same way about my running! I have taken many lessons from the experience, including learning about expectations and coping with adversity.

    One thought – is there room here for a distinction between pain and suffering? That was actually a key concept that I gained from being an adult-onset runner – being willing to tolerate pain and even accepting pain as a temporary and necessary condition to improve and progress. Suffering, I think, was more about the my internal narrative about the pain – if that self-talk was negative, I suffered, if not, it was just pain. (Ok, at mile 22ish, maybe it’s more like both ; ) ).

    Anyway, I really loved the article – such an articulate description of how much you can learn about yourself through running, especially as a middle and back of the pack runner, way beyond the physical benefits.

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