Every day, we have a choice of whether to be happy or miserable. We may have no control over what happens in our lives, what difficulties we face, what opposition and challenge and pain and loss that comes our way. But we still have a choice in how we experience those realities.
As they say, pain is inevitable. Suffering is optional.
The difference between pain and suffering is huge, but subtle. Most people never take the time to really consider the difference.
Pain is real. Whether it’s the pain of illness or losing a loved one or getting fired from a job, pain is a physical, psychological, spiritual experience we all recognize.
Suffering is not real. Suffering is what we attach to the pain, the feelings and emotions and attitudes (usually condensed to some version of “this isn’t fair.”) Suffering is choosing to assign moral judgments to physical sensations.
I am in pain. I am tired. I am isolated and lonely.
All painful experiences, but they don’t absolutely have to lead to suffering. Ask any mother (after significant time for recuperation), and she’ll tell you that the pain of childbirth was worth it. Ask any marathoner, and they’ll say being tired is just part of the game. The doctoral candidate working on their thesis may experience isolation and loneliness, but it’s a temporary sacrifice for a greater goal.
The understanding that all pain, as well as all joy, is simply a temporary experience in a greater whole of experience can be crucial in eliminating suffering from our lives. Knowing that this, too, shall pass allows us to experience the joys and pains of life without attaching too many judgements to the experiences.
Today, when you feel yourself suffering, ask yourself what judgements you are putting on your experience. What self-talk can you hear when you consider the experience? Have you forgotten this experience is temporary?
Let yourself experience the pain, the joy, and all the things life throws at you without attachment or judgement. You will be amazed at how quickly your suffering is alleviated.