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    « Replacement thoughts | Main | The ocean is my role model »

    The end of suffering

    Suffering is prolonged pain, unnecessary pain, pain that serves no purpose.

    Pain is an alarm. It's life's way of letting us know there's something going on that we'd best attend to, that we would do well to resolve, if we can. It could be a stone in our shoe or a bad idea that we're too focused on. In every case, pain is a warning that we need to get to a place of greater comfort ASAP (if we can.) Pain is a harsh friend, sometimes an unwelcome friend, but it is a friend nevertheless.

    You can remove a stone from your shoe. A burn will heal -- ice will make it more comfortable. Time heals most wounds.

    Pain can operate like a compass. The pain attendent on illness can show us (or the doctors) the way toward a place of greater comfort. Pain can tell a story, or it can serve as a reference, like the children's game of "hot and cold," where pain is cold, comfort is warmth.

    Suffering, on the other hand, is old pain, stale pain, unnecessary pain -- a hurt that we either can't or won't resolve. It's the endless recycling of a resisted or misunderstood message.

    What is it that turns pain into suffering? Resistance. Suffering is resisted pain. We either resist from a place of fear and/or misunderstanding, or from a place of defensiveness. We resist the pain because we don't want the message, but the message just gets louder.

    We refuse the gift, the message of pain, and when we resist pain, when we try to block it, to ignore it, to fight it, when we try to defend ourselves against what it's trying to tell us, then pain becomes suffering.

    Suffering ends when we stop fighting, stop resisting, and start cooperating, start learning, start evolving -- start going with whatever flow there is, and there's always a flow, a movement, toward relief, toward freedom.

    Comfort is always somewhere close by -- we just need to be willing to remember to look for it.

    Steps to ending suffering:

    1. Allow yourself to fully feel the upset, the hurt, the pain. Stop trying to suppress it, control it, or resist it. Allow yourself to feel it. It's there, it's not going away until the message is received -- relax into it, open up to it.

    2. Question the stories and fears you have about the pain. Write down all the terrible things you think the pain means, and then question them, one by one: are they true? We often exaggerate the meaning of pain and make it much worse than it is by telling terrible stories about it.

    3. Welcome the pain as a message. Don't try hold on to it, let go of needing to figure it out or fix it. Just understand that there is a message in the hurt, and be willing to discover what that message it. Just be open to relaxing and letting go of your need to hold on to or control the hurt, to fix the hurt, to avoid the hurt, to resent the hurt. Let go of the suffering. Don't hold on to it.

    Release it and let it go.

    4. If possible, find and feel the larger context: the physical and emotional space around the hurt that isn't part of the hurt. Remember, life is big, the hurt is small. It only feels big because you're focused on it.


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