Life is Painful but the Suffering is an Optional Extra

Pain is inevitable, suffering is optional.”

What do you do when you find yourself in a situation you don’t like?

Let’s say you drive to the shops and leave your car for no more than five minutes. Then when you return you realise someone has damaged your car and left no contact details.

How do you emotionally react to the pain?

Do you feel resentful and angry or do you soften?

Do you open up to the situation or do you close down?

We had it all going so well and then suddenly our world is rocked- ‘Why me?’

We don’t understand how we ended up in this ugly place and don’t like it. We want it to go away. We lose trust that things can be changed for the better.

Negative thoughts stimulate narratives that create strong emotions that lead us down a path of panic. Rather than letting things calm we keep fanning the flames that make our emotions and feelings get hotter and hotter.

We seek justice and validation from anyone who will listen.

Does this sound familiar to you?

We all, at some time or another, encounter moments like these that disrupt our inner peace.

However, there is a better option that stops the suffering from becoming an inevitable by-product of the pain.

Sh*t Happens!

Irrespective of our planning in life things will always be unpredictable. Things can randomly happen at any time that will not always be to our liking and cause us pain. This is one of the few guarantees in life.

Any encounter has the potential to rock our foundations. In a split second, our world can be completely turned upside down. What we saw as secure and certain can suddenly change.

We could be minding our own business, having a great day, and then we feel attacked in some way. Naturally, this will cause a feeling of edginess, anxiety, resentment and anger.

This was my recent reality. I had parked my motor scooter in what seemed a safe place. I went to the park to read for maybe 20 minutes and when I returned I found a note. Someone had clipped my bike causing damage.

At that moment I remember the anger and disbelief. I couldn’t calm down. Nothing made sense. Never-ending negative stories consumed my mind- ‘What type of person does such a thing?’

The note offered no apology. This only threw more fuel onto the fire of my emotions.

What can I do to fix the problem and make the pain go away?

Start by Stopping the Predictable Ways of Responding

Typically, when something happens that we don’t like we strive to protect ourselves from the perceived problem. We try to push this uncomfortable feeling away as quickly as we can. We want stability. We want inner calm.

But the reality of any problematic situation is we are at the mercy of how we use our mind. We create our situation. Our predictable habitual ways of responding do not always serve us well.  

No doubt it may feel uncomfortable to confront. However, if we resist, retreat and don’t apply ourselves to opening up to the experience fully the problem will just keep manifesting in different ways.

There will be this oscillating between resentment, criticism, anger and suffering.

Alternatively, if we can catch ourselves before we start to follow our familiar way of responding, start to relax and be more generous in our thinking we will find inner peace.

In the middle of my habitual pattern of reacting to save the day I was able to stop myself. It wasn’t easy, but I decided to let go of the narrative input that was spiralling out of control.

Rather than looking to close down to the pain by judging and seeking compensation for the wrongdoing, I found myself opening my heart and being more generous and compassionate to the situation.

I remember thinking if a note had not been left I probably would not have noticed the damage and driven off. Similarly, the person had left a phone number. To me, this signalled the acknowledgement of a mistake and intent to help fix the problem.

Changing our Perception of Reality

Our attempts to manage pain often turn it into suffering instead of providing relief. Problems in life needn’t be viewed as our enemy.

What we view as problems is the world’s way of showing us that we are stuck. Whether we experience things as problems or lessons depends on our perception of reality.

Knowing this we can learn to appreciate the pain caused by an experience is not the real problem. It’s our own struggle and inability to accept the suffering that we create for ourselves wanting things to be a certain way.

When those moments of pain arise, we grasp for anything that will help us remove or escape the pain.

Yet, rather than trying to remove ourselves from the reality of the situation, we have a golden opportunity to move closer and explore how we habitual try to escape.

What seems to be ugly to look at suddenly becomes a way for us to connect and better understand ourselves and others around us. We start to see how we typically react when things start to go wrong. How we see things as good or evil, right or wrong.

There was a big longing to fix the problem. Yet, by becoming less rigid in my thinking and clinging to ideas of what should happen I was able to gain a clearer understanding that didn’t keep me stuck in suffering.

Learning to Open up to what’s Really Happening

Events do not need to be considered as a problem. Instead of throwing more fuel on the fire of our emotions, we can rest with the emotional energy and just let the heat lessen.

It could be viewed as a time to explore our habitual way of reacting. Rather than judgement or blame, we can allow ourselves to open up to what really is happening.

Rather than struggle with the pain that leads to suffering what can we learn about ourselves and the world around us?

If we can see the intensity of our emotions we have an opportunity to choose to soften and befriend ourselves and also all human beings.

By becoming more aware of our tendencies to try and force an outcome that overcomes the pain and uncertainty we begin to develop an approach that focuses compassion for ourselves and everyone around us.

What was unpleasant and challenging now becomes our teacher.

Take away message

Things will always come along to challenge us in life. My experience reminds me of the importance of catching ourselves before we spin off into old ways of trying to fix things.

Trying to control events in our life is setting us up for failure. Things happen. Sometimes there’s joy sometimes there’s sorrow.

We all want a perfect life filled with happiness but that can never truly happen. When things interrupt our day we don’t need to strive to change ourselves. We just need to allow ourselves to flow with the hot and cold, the rough and the smooth, the good and the bad. We need to give up seeking the perfect moment.

Running away never solved anything. Rather than trying to eliminate something or feeling like a victim, take the opportunity to do something unfamiliar. Just stop and witness how we typically react when pressured. This allows us to cultivate our self-awareness.

Try it! Everyday some comes into our lives to challenge us in some way. Next time consciously resist rushing off in the same direction following the same patterns of behaviours to try and fix things.

Let us know how you go. It’s worth the investment to try.

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