Though Pain Is Inevitable Suffering is Optional

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“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 Suffering arises when you buy into the false belief that your p...

“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

Suffering arises when you buy into the false belief that your pain is permanent.

The degree to which you suffer is determined by your response. Pain can be a doorway to inner awakening, revealing that you are greater than your suffering.

“The most we can say is that people who succeed in turning pain and suffering from a wholly aversive experience into a catalyst for self-transformation seem to be able to do so only because they make such self-transformation their specific focus," states Dr. Alex Lickerman in The Undefeated Mind.

Psychological pain develops when outside events fall short of your inner model of reality.

You believe circumstances shouldn’t be happening, so much so your resistance invites more suffering into your life.

In an earlier article titled, Sometimes You Have To Go Through The Storm, I outlined the Four Noble Truths according to Buddhist wisdom.

They are:

  1. The Truth of Suffering
  2. The Truth Of The Cause Of Suffering
  3. The Truth Of The End Of Suffering
  4. The Truth Of The Path Leading To The End Of Suffering

Pain and suffering need not coexist to affect the quality of your life. Your response is measured how you internalise those events.

We all experience pain, evident by the atrocities and violence in the world nowadays. It is broadcast into our living rooms and social media channels moments after it occurs.

It’s no surprise we live in uncertain times. Yet, you have a choice whether to buy into the fear or connect with the wisdom of your heart.

The latter is challenging though not impossible, especially when inundated by distressing news events.

Whilst you may consider it naïve that suffering is not a measure of pain, consider those who proved it’s possible to transcend suffering: Victor Frankl, Gandhi and Nelson Mandela.

In his book, Falling into Grace the American spiritual teacher Adyashanti states. “But the more we look outward, resenting and blaming others and particular life circumstances, the more unconscious we become, and the more the pain and suffering is sent deeper into our systems.”

It’s worth restating, the meaning you assign to unpleasant events decides the extent to which you suffer.

How is suffering not possible when a couple divorces after thirty years of marriage, due to infidelity you might ask?

It’s clear they will experience pain at the demise of the marriage since there’s no set period for grieving. However, to preserve the pain years after the marriage has dissolved invites suffering to fill a space that only love can heal.

The same event can have different interpretations at various times in your life. Yet, it is the meaning assigned to those events that fuels suffering.

Here’s the good news and bad news. Every person suffers.

“The truth that many people never understand, until it is too late, is that the more you try to avoid suffering the more you suffer because smaller and more insignificant things begin to torture you in proportion to your fear of being hurt.” — Thomas Merton

The extent to which you hurt lies in your capacity to manage pain or equally, reinforce the bad wolf.

Pain can cut deeper into your wounds or be used to heal.

I’m reminded of those people who lose their: children, husbands or wives to devastating circumstances and transform their pain from victim to empowered individuals.

You can stay mired in your circumstances or transform suffering into a healing agent.

"We cannot change anything until we accept it. Condemnation does not liberate, it oppresses," states the Swiss psychiatristCarl Jung.

To overcome pain, endure it instead of running away from it.

I know this goes against every human instinct because pleasure is more appealing than pain. Yet, how will you know pleasure without the contrast of pain?

How will you enjoy spring and summer were it not for the darkness of winter? Pain does not last forever, yet if you clutch to the suffering, it takes longer to move through you.

The work of brain scientist Jill Bolte Taylor suggests that the average lifespan of an emotion to move through the nervous system is one and a half minutes. Knowing this releases the burden we need to carry our emotional attachments longer than need be.

I enjoy this passage from author Amy B Scher in her book How to Heal Yourself When No One Else Can, “No one likes to experience pain and suffering. In fact, we spend much of our lives trying to avoid this. But believing that suffering is bad will cause more havoc in your life than actually experiencing it would. Suffering just feels bad while it’s happening, and because of that, we fight it like the plague. But suffering also has a silver lining that never gets the credit it deserves. Suffering helps us grow and get to the next place in life. Let’s face it: if not for suffering, we’d never stop in our busy lives to expand in ways that make us better.”

Pain is a wonderful teacher if you allow it passage through you. Let go of the mental story that accompanies your condition.

In the example of divorce, what if the couple embraced their situation instead of retreat from it? That means: feeling the sadness, the depression, the anger, the fears and the uncertainty?

Instead of pushing against these states, what if they leaned into them to heal their situation?

What I’m proposing, is the response to pain is not to slap a Band-Aid on it, yet to experience its intensity.

Personal growth is not a clear choice in the midst of suffering. It’s the last thing on your mind, since your primary aim is to ease the suffering.

Sometimes, life decides on your behalf by compelling you to evolve, not to punish you for past transgressions. Rather, it strengthens your commitment to honour your deepest self through adversity.

Stay in your painful moments by being present to the experience. If you push away the pain, you invite more suffering because you expect the future to be better than what’s taking place now. This is the greatest illusion sold to mankind – that the future will be better than the past or the present moment.

Second, move into a state of gratitude. I know this is difficult, though this practice is about positively influencing your brain chemistry, from a stressed to a peaceful state.

You can heal. You can transform your pain if you allow a path through you. Stop running away from it since this intensifies the suffering.

As a wise teacher once related, “Pushing against pain is like grappling with a Sumo wrestler, above a bottomless pit. In the end, you will succumb to his mighty force and fall into the hole if you struggle. However, if you allow yourself to be pushed out the way, you land safely back from the pit as he falls to his demise.”

Such is the tale of pain. Allow it to take you where it needs to and trust it’s there to serve the path from victim to victor.

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