Pain and Suffering

I was reading another blog writer whose posts I follow, and I found this little gem of a thought that, for me, requires some additional thought and introspection. The words are credited to the religion of Buddhism:

“Pain exists but suffering is optional.”

According to the dictionary, pain is defined as the actual discomfort of something, be it mental or physical, and suffering is the mental perception we use to define the depth of our pain.

This idea that suffering is optional really hit me hard. I have a friend who lost her dad about 7 or 8 months ago and is still feeling the loss very strongly, apparently unable or unwilling to begin a healing process. Knowing from experience that we all grieve at our own pace, I’ve simply listened as, time after time, she mutters about how very much she misses him and how empty her life feels without him. And I wondered if this idea about pain and suffering might apply to her, that, while the pain is indeed beginning to heal, she chooses to continue to suffer its consequences for whatever reason she needs to do so.

I recently overdid it physically to the point that I was hurting on a scale of 7 to 8 out of 10 constantly in my neck, shoulders and arms. My neck is a serious spot, as my chiropractor always had to ‘reset’ it during my adjustments. My right shoulder, at least, still has an occasional twinge from having dislocated it over a year ago. When I got home, all I could do was drop my purse inside the door, kick off my shoes, turn the air conditioner down to 69 because I was drenched with sweat from the activity and plop into the recliner. It hurt badly enough that I could have cried, but not quite badly enough that I couldn’t keep myself from crying. And, as happens whenever I hurt that much, my mind says, “I want my mommy.” In real life, that would have done me no good, because my mom was not the nurturing type in many ways, but I did want the kind of mommy like June Cleaver who would soothe and comfort me even if she couldn’t make the pain go away. The pain did exist, as did the suffering. It required conscious choice and focus not to just continue to feel sorry for myself as I continued to heal, but to force myself to work through some of the pain by moving and using my arms and back. It was slow going, but I didn’t stay in “suffering” longer than I had to.

Nonetheless, I think all of us at one time or another (and some of us multiple times!) have suffered longer than we truly needed to. For me, I prolonged it simply because I wanted the attention and nurturing from anyone who saw me suffering. Deeper, than that, I probably just wanted for someone to show me that they cared for me, not just say the words.

The other side of that coin is that, when I’m suffering the most, I tend to completely withdraw from anyone who might give me comfort. I’ve always had a difficult time asking for help with anything, and I always feel that if I ask for help, I am encroaching on someone else’s time and energy. Behind all of that is the fear that, if I share my pain with another and they are unable or unwilling to support me through it, that means that my pain is insignificant enough not to be dealt with.

I don’t know if I’m going to change my ways (being an old dog and all), but I am going to keep the idea in my head that suffering is optional and use that idea to help me determine if I want to continue to suffer or try to find ways out of the pain. And I hope sharing that philosophy here might help someone else at last recognize his/her own patterns of suffering.