Many people today teach suffering: how to live with it, how to work through it, even how to benefit from it. But I teach ENLIGHTENMENT – with Enlightenment there is no suffering.
I know pain is inevitable. There will always be painful experiences in life – physical, emotional and spiritual. Pain really can’t be avoided. Suffering, however, is a different matter, suffering requires choice. Suffering is not the same as pain. Pain is due to something that happens to you, such as an injury whether physical or emotional. Suffering is actually the result of holding onto the hurt long after the source has withdrawn. It occurs in response to thoughts such as: “Why me?!” “This isn’t fair!” “This is horrible!” “I can’t stand it!” Whereas pain is an experience, suffering is a perception
Viktor Frankle, psychiatrist and Holocaust survivor, observed that “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.” Our response to a situation is something we can adjust and use to our advantage. We can choose to suffer or get past the pain and accept healing.
Now, pain is a signal that healing is required and it is important to take time to notice the pain and react to it in some appropriate manner. But, suffering is a result of repeated failure to act on that signal: failure to accept the healing. It is obvious that physical healing can relieve pain – but we mustn’t forget that spiritual and emotional healing is also required. It is this type of healing that stops pain from turning into suffering.
Those who suffer have gotten into the habit of numbing or avoiding (through blame, resentment, anger, addictions, or compulsions), the pain-signals that would otherwise motivate healing, repairing, or improving.
It takes focused awareness, mindfulness and emotional reconditioning to break habits.
Is this easy? Of course not. However, it is absolutely possible. By adjusting our thinking, and how we think about our thinking, we can change our emotional responses, the extent to which we suffer (or not), our level of tension and stress, and in turn, our experience of pain.
Helen Keller, the noted humanitarian who overcame immense physical difficulties in her own life, stated that “The world is full of suffering. It is also full of overcoming it.” Suffering is not something that must be endured forever, we have the potential to overcome it if we so choose.
Here are 6 practices that can help you alleviate and overcome your suffering:
- Don’t embellish your story.Something hurt you in the past – a moment ago, a year ago, a life time ago. When you recount the incident, leave out the unnecessary drama about how the event “ruined” you. Give yourself the freedom to move on.
A regular meditation practice can help you with this.
- Learn to embrace change and uncertainty.We live life in a series of moments. Instead of resisting the changes we face, choose to make the present moment more acceptable then the last. And remember the next moment could be completely different again.
- Smile, even if you don’t feel it inside.
Buddhist philosopher Thich Nhat Hanh once said, “Sometimes your joy is the source of your smile, but sometimes your smile can be the source of your joy.” This is a wonderful reminder that we have more power to change our mood than we realize. We can choose to smile and that choice can actually alter our physical experience.
These kinds of positive feedback loops can make a big difference in overcoming our own suffering rather than being entrenched in it.
- Break out of your usual routine.
Sometimes suffering comes about because we’ve ground ourselves down into a rut. We obsess over our loss and can’t seem to think of anything else.
At times like these, it helps to give our psyche and soul a jumpstart by doing something we wouldn’t normally do. Take on an adventure – even a minor one like taking a long walk or accepting an invitation to some event – something that will get you to focus on something other than your own pain
- Help ease someone else’s suffering.
When we experience pain, it’s easy to isolate ourselves and believe that no one has it worse than we do.
While whatever pain you are experiencing is unique to you, it helps to remember that all human beings share the capacity for joy and suffering. Having contact with someone else who is also having a difficult time and offering them simple kindness can be a great antidote to our own suffering. Volunteer for some cause you may feel sympathetic to or just give some friend a hand with their own issues.
- Remember your basic goodness.
“Basic goodness” is a wonderful concept that comes from the Shambhala Buddhist tradition. The world is full of beauty and wonder and people can be kind and compassionate. Be mindful that no matter how chaotic or negative the circumstances of our life, there is a ground of basic goodness in ourselves and in the universe that we can count on.
Tibetan Buddhist teacher Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche put it like this:
“If we are willing to take an unbiased look, we will find that, in spite of all our problems and confusion, all our emotional and psychological ups and downs, there is something basically good about our existence as human beings.”
When you are in the midst of deep pain, practice these points. Allow yourself to touch back on to this truth—or at least the possibility of this truth: the world can be as good as we want it to be. You can accomplish this in very simple ways: Take a walk outside and appreciate the warmth of the sun on your face, drink a sip of cool, fresh water, spend time with friends or family, or do anything that once gave you pleasure like reading a book or re-watching your favorite movie. These actions can help to remind you that in a multitude of ways, the universe is supporting you. And remember that while there is self-generated suffering, there is also self-generated happiness. Choose to be happy.