Pain is inevitable; suffering is optional.

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All that we are is the result of what we have thought. If a man speaks or acts with an evil thought, pain follows him. If a man speaks or acts with a pure thought, happiness follows him, like a shadow that never leaves him. – Buddha

When your day is long
And the night, the night is yours alone
When you’re sure you’ve had enough
Of this life, well hang on
Don’t let yourself go
‘Cause everybody cries
And everybody hurts sometimes
– “Everybody Hurts” by R.E.M.

Often, when you lose a loved one, how much you hurt is a sign of how much you opened your heart and loved that person. The fact that you feel pain says something good about you; but know that suffering is optional.

Ker Cleary is a therapist in Oregon. Her area of focus is Contemplative Psychotherapy, a blend of Western and Eastern practices.  Her practice promotes mindfulness and awareness, focusing on a client’s health rather than just a disorder. In an article from the Healing Arts Café website she writes:

If we keep berating our­selves for our feelings and thoughts, we will keep hiding from ourselves. Hiding increases our feelings of isolation, loneli­ness, depression, and anxiety. It is unnec­essary to suffer this way. If we show our­selves kindness, we blossom. Connecting with ourselves connects us to the world at large, which could use more kindness and connection. As we go, so goes the world.

When we stop judging ourselves, even for a moment, the possibility of happiness arises. Our hearts begin to open. Accep­tance of ourselves, as we find ourselves to be in each moment, is the kindest gift we can bring. It is all we want, after all, and all we really, truly need.

And in an article from the Good Therapy website:

When we ignore hurt or pain, we don’t learn anything, and we continually repeat the habits that create suffering. Grasping at our pain means we miss the actuality of it. We might experience depression or anxiety as a solid, unchanging wall, when in reality it is full of gaps and moments of freedom. Rejecting our pain leads to suffering when we make an enemy of our experience. Experience is just experience. Rejecting thoughts, feelings, and experience is pointless, and deepens the conflict in our lives.

It takes an open mind to perceive our situation clearly and accurately. It takes patience to sit with it and observe without altering, judging, or making assumptions.

Sidebar: This shit is hard. Does not come naturally. It is said that it takes several lifetimes to get good at it. Just sayin’. More from Ker:

We could recall that we are never alone. Any pain or suffering we feel has also been felt by others. There is no one whose life is free from pain, who does not wish to be free of suffering, and who does not deserve compassion. We are all in this together.

Again from R.E.M.:

Don’t throw your hand
If you feel like you’re alone
No, no, no, you are not alone 

And again from Ker:

If we can simply rest our minds on pain without altering our experience, we might notice that pain changes. This can bring great comfort and reassurance. Pain is no more permanent than anything else. Headaches are not solid and unchanging; neither is depression or fear. Through this practice we can gain confidence in our ability to work with whatever arises in the moment.

We don’t need to cover the world with leather to protect our feet. We can simply wear shoes.

This is the power of seeing what is, and letting go of the story. Because one thing is certain, more pain will come our way in this life. It is inevitable. But it is possible to choose whether or not we will turn it into suffering, or simply leave pain where it is, to arise and dissolve on its own, without our interference, elaboration, or rejection. That is always an option.

Like I said, this shit is hard. But to quote Dr. Buckaroo Banzai, M.D, Ph.D: if it were easy, everybody would do it.

4 Comments on “Pain is inevitable; suffering is optional.”

  1. […] on an eclectic range of topics. One of her recent articles included some wisdom that supports my post of a few days ago. See if you agree. It’s essential that – beyond whatever feelings of despair you may […]

  2. […] But I read a quote today that gives me a new perspective on it. It sort of follows the concept that pain is inevitable but suffering is optional. […]

  3. […] Sort of ties in with the notion that pain is inevitable, suffering is optional. […]

  4. […] Fits in with the idea that pain is inevitable, suffering is optional. […]

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