Pain or Suffering — Which Do You Choose?

Pain is inevitable, suffering is optional.     Buddhist proverb

This profound aphorism teaches us that pain is what life’s events inflict on us, while suffering is what we inflict on ourselves, that is, our emotional reactions to those events.  The implication here is we may not be able to control the events in our lives but we can control how we choose to react to them.

So why does pain exist?  If, as the laws of physics and the universe suggest, everything happens for a reason, then what is pain’s purpose?

The pain is not to make you miserable, the pain is to make you more aware!
And when you are aware, misery disappears.      Osho, Take It Easy, Vol. 2, Ch. 12.

Ask yourself, when have I experienced my greatest transformation?  If you are like me, it was during times of great sorrow or pain.  The “sharpness” of these events (death of a loved one, natural disaster, birthing process, etc.) kept me focused and alert to my inner experience.  My transformational discovery — travelling to the roots of my pain and standing still in its presence, neither defending against it nor running away — reveals my truth.

                       Standing Still

I am standing still
neither fading away nor forging forward
lulled by this sea of rippling tranquility.

What am I waiting for . . .
a wave to scatter my essence or
the wisdom to step solidly into being?

Both call simultaneously for attention.
And with each scattering wave, space is created
for my new being to grow and flourish.

My watery illusion reminds me,
I am always formed and unformed,
knowing and unknowing,
receiving and riding waves of joy and pain.

                                                April 2011

Sorrow is the arrow pointing our way to self-discovery.  Hence why pain is significant and necessary in our experience as humans being.  You’ve probably heard this before — crisis (pain) is the great motivator of change.  Pain triggers us to heal, learn, grow and enlighten our being.  Suffering, on the other hand, is not necessary or healing.  Instead, it inhibits our development and well-being through negative reactions of blame or self-pity.

Can you differentiate between pain and suffering in your life?  What suffering can you release?