Pain vs suffering is a topic that I find myself returning to quite often. Pain describes the natural consequences of existence: disappointment, loss, physical pain, death of loved ones, disease, sadness, frustration, anger, resentment etc.
Suffering is often used as a synonym for pain but is actually different. Suffering reflects how our mind perceives, interprets and manages our pain. Suffering is often a function of our attitudes about pain. The degree to which we suffer varies tremendously from person to person.
Fear, worry and projecting into an unknown future all worsen our suffering in the present moment. Failure to accept pain as a normal part of living only worsens the suffering that follows.
But we can choose to view pain as more than a despised and feared enemy, a curse visited upon humanity because we are inherently ‘sinners’. Physical pain alerts us to something significant going on–something we should not ignore.
Individuals with diseases which impair pain perception eventually damage their limbs, fingers and toes which can lead to deformity, gangrene and amputation.
Emotional pain alerts us as well to a situation that needs attention. Perhaps it reflects are dissatisfaction with personal or professional relationships. Perhaps it signifies our own frustration with our present path in life.
What we do with these signs and signals is our choice. Unfortunately some choose to deny, suppress or ignore them. This rarely works and merely leads to further suffering.
Both are inherent and unavoidable consequences of being alive. They can be seen as challenges and opportunities for growth.
Of course this is not to suggest that we live with our pain and not seek remedy for it. We can certainly treat and reduce the pain itself–just don’t ignore the underlying cause.
Pain is a clue to a challenge which should be faced and dealt with. Suffering is a function of how we handle our pain.
Suffering can lead us to anger, withdrawal or depression. Or it can lead us to understanding the value of compassion for other living beings.
Pain & suffering can be understood as gifts of higher awareness. But this requires an active choice on our part to do so.