I came across an article in Shambala Sun today titled, “Suffering is Optional.” I, like most, glance at the heading and smirk to myself. At first glance, it’s ridiculous. On second glance, it’s true. At third glance, that one phrase is a reminder that has the potential to shift much of our Earthly experience, if only we allow it.
In times of pain – physically, mental or emotional – our first instinct is to dwell on that pain. But we dwell in a way that suggests that pain is a bad thing, or must go away as quickly as possible. We often become frustrated or attempt to ignore the problem. Mindfulness has another proposition. It is possible to sit with the pain, to truly feel the pain and to look to understand the pain a bit more. In my paradigm, it’s about breathing and allowing oneself to feel. In other paradigms, it’s about being aware and seeing the pain that is reality rather than looking outside of reality to escape the pain. It’s all the same.
How to stop suffering
Now, I understand this may make sense to some and may seem crazy to others so I will give a practical example. Today, while packing boxes in preparing of moving, I slammed my ankle bone into a door frame. My old reaction would have been to hop or limp erratically and unconsciously hold my breath waiting for the pain to subside. It’s possible I would have complained as well, just so others would hear and give me a little sympathy. With a mindfulness practice; however, the approach happened a bit differently. I hit the ankle and upon realizing the pain, I stopped right where I was, breathed slowly and focused all my attention on my ankle. Where attention goes, energy or prana will follow. So I sent breath to the site of the pain. I felt the pain, I questioned the pain, I figured out exactly where in my body the pain was coming from. I wondered if there was pain anywhere else. I examined the skin to look for any sign of the impact. And while I was breathing and considering – which maybe occurred over the course of 10 seconds – I realized the pain really wasn’t that bad and was gone pretty instantly. It’s not to say that paying attention will make the pain go away. It’s quite the opposite actually. I’ve learned this lesson time and time again in my yoga practice. The more focused I am on the sensations, the stronger they can be. Not always, but sometimes, with the increased awareness comes increased sensations. However, learning to allow oneself to truly feel is a powerful lesson that can reverberate throughout life. Learning to feel the full range of emotions, the full range of pain and the full range of pleasure can have profound effects.
Just like everyone else, I’m still working on this. I have found that it’s easier for me to be aware of and truly feel physical pain. Emotions and pleasure are a bit more challenging. Maybe others have a different experience.
Pain will never go away, but we can choose to not let it make us suffer.
Today, I challenge you to attempt to feel in times of pain and suffering. If you feel inspired, comment and let me and others know how it went. This is no easy task, but even thinking about it from time to time can help.
May you choose the path of less suffering today.