Wow, it was Painful!
It was a warm summer’s afternoon at Forest Hill station in London, England. At just 12 years old, the train ride to and from school was exciting, it was fresh enough that I was still enjoying the novelty.
Deep in conversation with a friend, I casually swung the train door shut. Too casually - I forgot to get my fingers out of the way. Train doors are heavy, and the resultant crushing pain brought swift, copious tears to my eyes.
I can still recall the excruciating feeling to this day - Wow, how that hurt!
Crying like a baby, I went home to my mother, a nurse, who carefully dressed the wound. My finger swelled up badly, and eventually one of my nails fell off. Did I suffer!
Why? Because at that very tender age, I didn’t have the maturity to understand that pain and suffering are not necessarily the same. What was I missing?
My suffering was my response to the pain I was feeling, whereas the pain was my body’s reaction to what had actually happened. I had caught my finger in the door and it was indeed very painful. And so I suffered!
What is Suffering?
Suffering tells you that there's a better way to look at the situation. It’s how life reminds you that every cloud has a silver lining. It says there's a more effective perspective in each and every incident which you see as causing you to suffer. It’s up to you, not the other person/people/situation, to explore the situation and find that perspective.
Suffering is the way you feel about something, a disturbance of your internal harmony. It's how the universe brings a unsatisfactory situation to your attention. Pain, in contrast, is the sensation in the body. My crushed finger was indeed very painful, but does that mean I had to suffer?
Suffering is a signal that you need to grow, that it’s time for you to change internally, to change your context. Your context is where you come from when you do what you do, in contrast to your content which is what you do.
Is Pain the same as Suffering?
I certainly thought so at that tender age!
Many people see little if any difference between pain and suffering, despite the immense value of this very real distinction. It means that although something may be painful, it doesn't necessarily cause suffering. Although you may indeed suffer, is suffering necessary?
Let's explore a very common situation - childbirth. You know someone intimately who has had this experience - if not you, your mother! Many women know the difference between pain and suffering. Some will describe childbirth as one of the most painful they have ever had to endure. Yet others say, Yes, it was painful, but I didn’t suffer. It was the most glorious event in my life.
Yet both of these descriptions are of the same experience! Even those who describe it as wonderful will, at the same time, also agree that it can be very painful.
So how can something that's very painful also be a glorious experience? They have the powerful perspective which sees the choice to suffer as indeed a choice, the wisdom to see the self sabotage in suffering.
Does It Help To Suppress?
This is NOT to suggest you suppress pain, or any other emotion, that's more self sabotage. Just allow yourself to feel whatever you are feeling. So experience the pain, allow yourself to fully feel it for as long as you wish. Express your thoughts and feelings by crying as much as you wish. Don't suppress anything.
But see that pain is simply one outcome of your previous actions. Pain comes when you follow the self sabotage mechanism, it can be viewed as the consequence of your previous choices.
Then you can use the pain as encouragement to decide that, next time, you won’t make exactly the same choice again. There's no rush, only when you’ve had enough pain, will you use it to move on. But how come some people seem to experience pain differently? Is this really possible? How do they do it?
Suffering means Something Needs to Change
All suffering is a signal that something needs changing. That you need something to change. Yet most people assume it's the outside which needs changing. But is this true? Yes, if your suffering is external. But most of your suffering is internal, inside your head.
When the suffering is in your head, this suggests the place that needs to change is in your head. You need to change your context and stop your self sabotage! This insight increases your awareness and gives you more personal power. There's an insightful French saying that describes this brilliantly. Most people will try to change the outside and then wonder why:
Le plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose.
The more things change, the more things stay the same.
What were My Choices?
So what was the truth I was too young to see about my crushed fingers and the train door?
My fingers - were very, very painful, this was what was true for me. The truth is important, it doesn't help to suppress it. Yet how often do you then make the unconscious choice to react. It is indeed possible to choose a different, more appropriate, less er ... painful response.
My suffering was because I judged my pain. I suffered for many days because I did not realize that I even had a choice to respond rather than react. I reacted unconsciously to my pain and suffered because I confused my truthful childish assessment - my finger is in pain - with the judgment, this means I must suffer.
So although it may be painful, you suffer if you also make the subconscious choice to judge. I judged my pain - it's bad, poor me, it shouldn't have happened, etc... But have you ever stopped suffering by getting distracted, or forgetting about the gash in your leg. Even if you haven't done so yet, you have a choice whether to judge or not. Try it, it works!
You always have a choice, even though you may not see that you do. This is not to say that any of the options will be pleasant. Rather see that what has happened is just reality. Then there's also the choice to react negatively, or positively, So stop your self sabotage and choose to be more aware, then you can make that choice consciously!
How to Avoid Suffering
When you are not willing to change, life will continue to get your attention by bringing you similar situations. When you self sabotage by ignoring the signal, next time it's a bit more noticeable. To help ensure that you don’t ignore the message again, each signal gets a bit more forceful.
So change your context by choosing to look, think, and understand things differently. Yet how often do you keep ignoring the messages that you need to change until the signals are so loud that you get an enormous life shock! And then you complain, I had no idea this was coming.
Pay attention to the situation when it’s small, when the changes demanded are less drastic and easier to handle. Respond to life's suggestions sooner rather than later! Realize that when you judge, you suffer, so stop judging.
Suffering is a verb because it is something you are doing. Yet choosing not to suffer is far more enjoyable! As you increase your awareness, you realize you have different choices, and your suffering can then decrease. So discover how to become more aware - which will enable you to enjoy life more. And suffer less.
Food for Thought
“Men are disturbed not by things that happen, but by their opinion of the things that happen."