"Everyone is overridden by thoughts; that's why they have so much heartache and sorrow." ~ Jalaluddin Rumi
"There has been much tragedy in my life; at least half of it actually happened." You might chuckle, as I did, at this quote from Mark Twain. But what a great definition of suffering! Often we equate pain with suffering, but there is a good argument to be made that they are different. So what is the distinction? And why is it important to know the difference when you want to relieve pain?
You feel pain when the brain thinks you are in danger. Danger signals travel to the brain, and the brain may respond with pain – or not. Two people may have similar injuries and one will feel pain, the other not. So what is going on? Many things play into the sensation of pain, including your emotions, thoughts and feelings. What are you thinking? Did you just share some laughter with a loved one, or are you feeling all alone in the world? Do you feel as if no-one understands what you are going through, or do you have someone who offers you support when you feel particularly low? Did you have a really stressful day, or are you engaged in an activity you love?
You'll feel pain, more or less, depending on how you answer these questions. If you’re enjoying yourself, the endorphins produced will have a powerful pain-reducing effect – far more powerful than morphine. If you’re feeling alone, the sensations of pain can shoot through the roof. And on and on. Pain is complicated, and affected by many things.
Suffering is the mental component to pain. When you feel pain, it may hurt so much that, rather than exploring the sensations, you mentally move away from them and hear the story in your head instead. You feel pain and have a story as well. “Why does this hurt so much?” “Will this ever go away?” “Is this dangerous?” “Will I have to feel this for the rest of my life?” It hurts, and you may feel miserable, unhappy, exasperated, frustrated, impatient, angry, guilty – or any or all of the above, and perhaps more. So you suffer. And the pain may increase because of the suffering. It's a vicious cycle.
When you suffer, you feel pain – physical or mental. When you feel pain, however, you don’t have to suffer. To relieve pain, you can start by noticing your suffering. Notice the physical sensations in the body. Notice any thoughts, feelings or emotions that arise around those sensations. Explore the sensations in the body, and where you might be hanging on. Do any of the sensations change as you explore them? Do your thoughts, feelings and emotions change? What happens when you simply observe, noticing whatever comes up? Can you remain calm and begin to soften the edges of the sensation as you breathe in and out? Does this change the suffering? Does it change the pain?
And now, I’d love to hear from you. Have you struggled with pain? Do you have any tips that you’ve learned that have helped you manage and deal with your pain and suffering?
Donna offers a holistic perspective on the relationship and healing of physical and emotional pain.