top of page

Suffering is optional

I heard this great quote this week, “Pain is unavoidable, but suffering is optional.” The writer went on to explain:

“When reality doesn’t match our wants and desires we suffer. The key to happiness is understanding that suffering is caused by resisting pain. We can’t avoid pain, but we don’t have to suffer because of that pain. Suffering = pain x resistance. It’s an exponential vs a multiplicative relationship. We can distinguish between the normal pain of life, difficult emotions, physical discomfort and so on, and actual suffering which is the mental anguish caused by fighting against the fact that life is sometimes painful. Our emotional suffering is caused by our desire for things to be other than they are. The more we resist what is happening right now, the more we suffer.”


As it were, this last week in speaking with my clients this very topic arose. Many years ago I discovered that the physical pain we labeled in our mind is much more challenging than the actual pain. That our thoughts about pain feel worse than the pain itself. I discovered this because I was learning a breathing exercise to get rid of pain and in the process realized that when I went into the pain itself vs. trying to avoid the pain/make it go away, it wasn’t actually that painful.Now, I wouldn’t want to assume that people who are under chronic pain or have serious medical conditions would agree with me. However, they have done many studies on this and found that mindfulness activities, like meditation, can be very effective at releasing pain. More importantly, those studied stopped or lessened resistance to the pain by not giving into their mental idea of pain and acknowledged how the actual physical pain feels. You may be surprised to learn that the actual physical pain is less than the idea of pain. It is in the lessening of the resistance that the experience of pain is felt less acutely.Thus far I have just been writing about physical pain.  


The same is true about emotional pain.  It is in the resistance to what is that causes the suffering.  A quote from the 17th Century French philosopher Montaigne said, “My life has been filled with terrible misfortune, most of which never happened.”  Our pain lies in our recollection of past experiences and the projection or imagination of future experiences.   So, in order to feel better emotionally we must go into the pain, not try to avoid it.  We are physiologically programmed to avoid pain for survival, so resistance is built in. And, we do all kinds of things to avoid pain, things like: over work, over schedule our lives, take on too much, social media, drink, sex, do drugs, gamble, helicopter parent, over buy, choose stress, overly worry, don't reach our potential, and so on. Most everything we do is to avoid pain, even when it brings us pain like anxiety and overwhelm. Sorry, that got heavy quick! Hold on solution is coming!


You may be thinking that going into the pain sounds painful, right!?  Not going to lie, it is DIFFERENT!  I don’t mean different as in another way to say painful, I mean different as in you’ve likely never done it before so it feels different.  So, how do we go into the pain without feeling overwhelmed by it?   We go into the pain using mindfulness.  Mindfulness is the ability to be here, now, in this moment. In this moment here, now, there is nothing going on, there is no pain when we are attendant to this moment here. Mindfulness practices teach us how to recognize that the “pain” is just thoughts and emotions associated with the topic. When we come to know that we are not those thoughts or emotions and move into the position of spectator of them, then we can treat them as such. We can give those thoughts and emotions the attention that they should have as just that, thoughts and emotions vs. what Montaigne said, the story we made up about them.


This is the cool stuff I do with clients, teach them how to be mindful. I help them realize who they really are and live in this moment. Are you tired of living in your thoughts and emotions and want to find peace of mind, calm, purpose and meaning? I want to take that journey with you. Let’s chat about it.

Peace,Erin “free flowing” Mac

bottom of page