ReMindful - How To Suffer Less Through Difficult Times (7:20 mins)
One of the keys to living a more peaceful and happy life is to recognise and truly appreciate the difference between pain and suffering.
We all encounter painful events from time to time, it’s an inevitable part of life.
But us humans seem to be exceptionally good at turning our initial painful experiences into elongated periods of necessary suffering.
Pain, as I’m referring to it here means the difficult and uncomfortable feelings or emotions that naturally arise in response to undesired events taking place.
This includes everything from mild set-backs and disagreements to significant change or loss.
We experience the pain of disappointment, of rejection, of criticism, of embarrassment, of injustice, of grief, and of course the pain of physical discomfort or illness.
It is completely normal and natural for challenging feelings to arise in challenging situations.
A life of greater peace and contentment is not characterised by the absence of pain, but it is hugely supported by the letting go of all the ways we overlay our own suffering on top of the pain we experience.
We turn pain into suffering when we introduce our own negative stories, interpretations, judgements, rationalisation and projections about the painful experience; where it came from, why its happening, and what it all means for us going forward.
Experiencing a painful event is like being shot in the leg with an arrow. It hurts, and there is nothing we can do about the fact that it’s already happened.
But given time and the right kind of care, wounds heal.
Suffering, though, is like continuing to shoot ourselves in the same spot with a second, third or fourth arrow, keeping the wound alive and exacerbating the hurt.
A first arrow might represent the disappointment you feel if a friend, at the last minute, cancels the Friday night out you were looking forward to.
In that moment, disappointment is completely healthy and natural response.
The second arrow of suffering would be if you started telling yourself your friend is a jerk.
They’re so inconsiderate and obviously don’t care about what’s important to you.
And how you really needed and deserved this night out and now, instead, you’re missing out, stuck at home, bored with nothing to do.
And how this always happens to you.
And then perhaps replaying all of this as a thought-loop that continues well into the weekend.
It’s through our thinking that we transform what would be relatively short-lived painful experiences into much longer episodes of hurt and discontentment.
But what if we could simply be with the feeling disappointment, without all that narrative?
A healthy and wise response to a painful event is to be mindful of the raw emotion and feeling as it arises in the mind and the body, and to identify what’s happening in your system.
“This is sadness” or “This is frustration” or “I’m experiencing disappointment”, for example.
Then, with awareness and without judgement, allow yourselves to be with the experience of that emotion as it flows.
Simply feeling it.
Observing how it arises, how it changes and, at some point, how it passes.
Of course, it takes practice to lean into discomfort in this way, and to avoid reflexively jumping into a whirlpool of discursive thought and judgement.
But in doing so we’re allowing for two valuable things to happen.
Firstly, we’re allowing the emotion to be processed cleanly. Emotions don’t happen by accident and they need to be acknowledged and felt in order that they can pass through.
It is when we don’t acknowledge what we’re actually feeling that the energy of it stays trapped in the system and can become toxic. It might even end up manifesting as something else, such as bitterness or resentment.
But, by feeling it with a non-judging mind, it can simply flow through us, and we can be returned to a state of balance and wellbeing much more quickly.
Secondly, by experiencing the emotion of the pain, rather than our stories about the pain, we’re better able to learn from it.
Emotions are often our best teachers.
When we’re unencumbered by the distortions and half-truths of our thinking minds, we find ourselves with more space.
In that space we may well discover what really important to us. What we value.
We’re primed to more clearly see the impersonal nature of causes and conditions that led to this event, and how, if we wish, we can choose a wiser and kinder response. One that best serves ourselves and others.
So, what uncomfortable or painful events have you been dealing with recently?
And what second arrow thought-loops might you have been layering on top of that first arrow experience?
All the time we have minds, we’ll be telling ourselves stories about what’s happening to us and around us.
But any new moment can be an opportunity to pause and to pay attention to what’s really arising within us.
We can use that space to practice courageously being with our feelings, rather than acting out of our feelings.
We can be reminded, with compassion, that while pain is inevitable, suffering is optional - and only we can provide that for ourselves.
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