Pain is inevitable. Suffering is optional. It’s a Buddhist proverb, and I’d like to thank Jeff V. for putting it out there a week or so ago. Essentially, this proverb explores the concept that pain is what the outside world does to you, and suffering is what you do to yourself. It’s a very important lesson for all of us.
A theme in my coaching recently has been asking people to “let it go” as I listen to them vent about what’s happened to them or what somebody did to them. These people don’t agree with what’s happened, and they are hanging on to their grievances—tightly.
Our Knower/Judgers have developed a set of standards by which we run our lives. Unexamined and unchallenged, the K/J runs into all sorts of occurrences with which it does not agree. Things are right/wrong, good/bad, beautiful/ugly, fair/unfair—all K/J judgments that tend to set us up to disagree with people.
Life is full of pain. Broken computers, flat tires, leaky plumbing, illnesses, spousal abuse, even hammers hitting thumbs. But the suffering is the manifestation of our K/J reactions to what has occurred. It is our creation.
In a statement often misattributed to folks like Lou Holtz and Zig Ziglar, Rev. Charles Swindoll said “Life is 10% what happens to you and 90% how you react.” If your life script (dictated to you by the K/J) calls for and expects suffering, then there is no end to the amount of suffering you can create when even the slightest deviation from plan occurs.
“I can’t believe that happened again!”
“Why won’t he just do what he’s supposed to?”
“The damned tire blew and I skidded off the road and hit that tree.”
“I have cancer.”
As you can see the levels of pain can vary tremendously. But given one’s propensity for suffering, the pain can be prompted to endure interminably.
When “stuff” happens, we usually react. Here are some suffering-oriented reactions:
- Getting even
- “Sky is falling” predictions
These all satisfy the emotional need to maintain the K/J life script understanding of our relationship with pain and suffering.
Three responses that end suffering
In The New Earth, Eckhart Tolle gives us some exercises to defend ourselves from this continued suffering. The foundation revolves around letting go of the pain.
Tolle tells us that when you are present (in our words, in your /Researcher), there are only three responses to any occurrence that impacts you that will not cause you pain. I’ll paraphrase:
- Engage enthusiastically
- Enjoy passively
Anything else puts you in varying unproductive states of stress and struggle and, yes, suffering.
Let it go.
Ex post facto, we rarely find any valuable outcome to pursuing our suffering. The faster we can move on, the better our lives become. I’ve witnessed it innumerable times.
I’ll finish with another piece of Buddhist wisdom.
Two monks were strolling by a stream on their way home to the monastery. They were startled by the sound of a young woman in a bridal gown, sitting by the stream, crying softly.
Tears rolled down her cheeks as she gazed across the water. She needed to cross to get to her wedding, but she was fearful that doing so might ruin her beautiful handmade gown.
In this particular sect, monks were prohibited from touching women.
But one monk was filled with compassion for the bride. Ignoring the sanction, he hoisted the woman on his shoulders and carried her across the stream, assisting her journey and saving her gown. She smiled and bowed with gratitude as he noisily splashed his way back across the stream to rejoin his companion.
The second monk was livid. “How could you do that?” he scolded. “You know we are forbidden even to touch a woman, much less pick one up and carry her around!”
The offending monk listened in silence to a stern lecture that lasted all the way back to the monastery. His mind wandered as he felt the warm sunshine and listened to the singing birds. After returning to the monastery, he fell asleep for a few hours. He was jostled and awakened in the middle of the night by his fellow monk. “How could you carry that woman?” his agitated friend cried out. “Someone else could have helped her across the stream. You were a bad monk!”
“What woman?” the tired monk inquired groggily.
“Don’t you even remember? That woman you carried across the stream,” his colleague snapped.
“Oh, her,” laughed the sleepy monk. “I only carried her across the stream. You carried her all the way back to the monastery.”
The learning point is simple: Leave it at the stream.