Ripples #1027: Pain vs. Suffering!

Ripples #1027: Pain vs. Suffering!
Jan 28, 2019


Pain is a relatively objective, physical phenomenon; suffering is our psychological resistance to what happens. Events may create physical pain, but they do not in themselves create suffering. Resistance creates suffering.
-Dan Millman, shared by Leslie in Madison, WI


Life provides pain. We provide the suffering. We don’t have control over eliminating pain altogether because pain is part of life. There is no pain-free living. We do, however, have at least some control over how we suffer pain. To suffer means to carry, and we are in charge of our way of carrying pain. We learn ways of carrying pain, just like we learn so much else. Some ways we learn are efficient and some are inefficient and even make the pain worse. No, we can’t eliminate pain from our lives, but we can suffer or carry pain in a way that doesn’t create additional or unnecessary pain. Our challenge is to learn and develop efficient ways to suffer pain.
-David Doane
written and shared by David in Perrysburg, OH


There have been a few periods in my life where I didn’t realize how attached I had become to physical and psychological pain, unintentionally creating a downward spiral of suffering that made things much worse. It isn’t that the pain wasn’t legitimate; it’s just that the pain triggered a large amount of suffering which then led to more pain. Without realizing it, I was lengthening these difficult chapters in my life and often keeping myself from joyful moments that are possible even when pain is present.

A few months ago, I was struggling with chronic pain that was really bothersome until I happened upon two activities that shifted my perspective and short circuited the pain-suffering loop. One activity I happened upon while googling, “pain management techniques;” it involved mentally scanning my body to notice all the places that I was not experiencing pain. It wasn’t about ignoring the pain, but instead putting it into context. Pain has an upside-it serves as a useful warning alarm for our bodies and your brains. The problem with pain is that it can overwhelm the system and make it seem like pain is the only thing going on at a given moment. Noticing all the places we are NOT in pain creates a more helpful perspective by reminding the system that pain is just one part of what is happening.

The other activity I stumbled upon quite by accident: I was stuck dealing with a string of nightly headaches and had been temporarily prohibited from taking the usual medication that reliably resolved the pain. I needed a distraction, so I took myself out to a nice dinner and on the way home remembered that the zoo near my house was hosting their holiday light show. I wasn’t sure whether the crowds and the cold and the blinking lights would make things better or worse, but I decided to experiment. It turned out to be a delightful distraction and I was surprised at just how much I could enjoy the adventure even though I was still in significant pain. (I even went back the next night, and it helped even more!)

I’d be so pleased if you made an effort to experiment with these ideas the next time you’re dealing with any kind of pain. My sincere hope is that taking charge of suffering could help you change your relationship to pain.

The Ripples Guy

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