1.physical suffering or distress, as due to injury, illness, etc.
2.a distressing sensation in a particular part of the body
3.mental or emotional suffering or torment
1.to undergo, be subjected to, or endure (pain, distress, injury, loss, or anything unpleasant)
2.to undergo or experience (any action, process, or condition)
Whenever you have a casual conversation with someone, you ‘ll hear the words “pain” and “suffering” thrown out there as interchangeable terms meant to be synonymous with each other. What most people don’t know, however, is that those terms DO NOT mean the same thing.
When you feel pain, what you’re really feeling is your body responding to an external stimulus and it gives you a physical sensation or signal towards the event or situation. They can range from accidentally burning your hand in a stove, stepping on a Lego brick, migraines you feel on your forehead, or a whole variety of other situations. We all have to deal with pain in our lives. Living is, in and of itself, a painful experience, and we all have to face it.
However, what if I tell you that suffering doesn’t have to be a part of your life?
When you suffer, it’s not your body telling you that you’re suffering, it’s your mind telling you that. This is where your mind goes haywire and overwhelms you with bad thoughts and negative self-talk. Why did I fail that test? Why did I not get that job? Why did go through a break-up? When going through a negative life experience, we’re not angry or sad because we went through a negative life event, it’s because our expectations of that event didn’t go through as planned in our heads.
The constant feedback loop of events not going our way and the negative thoughts circling our minds can create a vicious cycle of suffering that can be detrimental to both how we succeed in our lives and how we view our happiness. Fortunately, there are ways to stop this cycle from causing so much turmoil in our lives and it starts with knowing the difference between pain and suffering.
When we feel pain, it is our body telling us it’s not safe and trying to protect us. If we put our hand in a stove, our body tells us to stay away from the fire in order to prevent our hand from burning. If we stay up too late, our head hurts and our body starts to feel sore from sleep deprivation. Pain isn’t just a fact of life, it’s sometimes necessary to keep us safe from danger.
When we suffer, it is our minds telling us that we’re suffering, not our bodies. Unlike pain, suffering has no practical uses. It is our thoughts judging, denying, bargaining, complaining, projecting, and, ultimately, worsening our pain rather than accepting it. While we often think pain and suffering go hand-in-hand, it doesn’t have to be. We can experience pain without going through suffering. Conversely, we can go through suffering without pain. Suffering without pain leads to depression, anxiety, paralysis, hopelessness, and several other negative health effects.
How does one prevent the vicious cycle of pain and suffering?
The first thing you should do is to accept that pain can and will happen in our lives. And there is nothing wrong with that. After all, growth can only happen if we experience some great pain in our lives. Pain can be necessary and crucial when it comes to a variety of things such as immunity to certain conditions such as allergies, teaching our bodies to figure out what is safe for us, and it can help us build resilience.
The second is to realize that you are in control of your own thoughts. One of the things we have to develop when going through pain is changing the way we think about what we’re going through. Instead of telling your brain unhelpful thoughts such as “I’ll never be loved” or “My life has been one big disappointment,” train your brain to pick up the positive. What can I do to improve myself? How can I use this as an opportunity to grow? What are the bright sides of this situation? When you prime your brain to search for the good among the bad or ways you can improve the situation, not only are you changing your attitude towards the situation, your attitude will in turn influence your behavior, which will influence your actions, putting you in a much better position in dealing with whatever issue you’re facing.
Finally, and most importantly, you are not your thoughts. The ultimate main idea is that we are own bosses when it comes to thinking. We can take charge in terms of how we think, we can quiet our minds and not let the cracks of the past and the uncertainties of the future dictate how we should live our lives in the now. We can replace unhelpful negative self-talk with useful positive self-talk. And we can train ourselves to accept pain in our body and use that as a way to go through any obstacle in our lives.
Let me give you a personal example. One day I went to the dentist. I actually don’t like going to the dentist because whenever I go, they always have to clean my teeth and that inevitably means I have to go through pain in my enamel, my gums and, of course, teeth. When they did clean my teeth, I felt the metallic sensation of the tools used to clean out the plaque between my incisors, the forceful rubbing of the floss further down in the rows of my teeth, and the strange taste of the gum used to purify the many germs that inhabit my mouth. While all of that happened, I tested my resolve and chose not to suffer from what the dentists were doing to me. I accepted what was going on, I held my fists and faced the cleaning head on. I chose not to suffer and never once did I suffer.
When it was all over, I couldn’t believe how much, or how little, time the cleaning felt. The dentist said that my teeth was in good health, no cavities or bleeding of gums, I just needed to clean my plaque out better. At the end, it was just a routine cleaning session for my teeth. I learned I needed to clean my teeth better and I came off better for it. That doesn’t mean I avoided the pain or felt no pain afterwards, but I felt better for it. I felt no stress and my mind was at ease.
Although it’s not a quick and easy fix, when we adjust our thinking and how we think about our thinking, we can learn to live with pain without going through suffering. When we learn to master our thinking, we can go through life knowing that no matter what kind of pain we go through life, we can lessen our suffering and learn to enjoy what we have in life instead of focusing on constant pain all the time.