Pain is inescapable, but Suffering is a choice

Once upon a time, two Zen Buddhist monks were on a journey when a horse carriage zipped past them and splattered puddle water and mud onto their robes. Possessing only a single set of robes, the monks were forced to detour from their path to find a source of running water to wash their sullied clothes.

One monk was visibly frustrated, and his rage seeped into his stride, which was now laboured and heavy. Finally, after four long hours of walking while covered in grime, they found a river. As they were washing their clothes, the frustrated monk exploded and said, “How stupid are they? Could they not see two monks walking?” The other monk calmly replied, “It seems to me young monk, that although our clothes have dried several hours ago, you are drenched in the suffering induced by your rage and frustration”.

This little story perfectly elucidates the choice one makes in the process of extending suffering beyond the source and instance of pain.

Purpose of pain

Pain in a biological sense is an essential feature of life which enables survival. Physical pain in the body indicates danger (Ex: Touching fire) or indicates some prevalent issue or ailment within the body which needs to be addressed. Such biological pain cannot be escaped, considering the physical world that we live in. The way in which we deal with this pain greatly determines the extent at which we experience it.

Emotional pain on the other hand is a result of discomfort to our personality and psyche. This kind of pain acts as an indicator to our strength in character or weakness in mental fortitude. The said strength or weakness is revealed in our reaction to pain and our behaviour post experiencing pain.

Pain is instantaneous and momentary, both physical and emotional pain. Our actions, mindset and approach to decisions and behaviour after experiencing pain determines whether we choose to suffer or not. Pain plays the role of a great teacher if we are willing to learn and grow from such experiences.

Pain also teaches us to value the pleasurable and good things in our life. An attitude for appreciating and relishing the good things in life can be valued only when juxtaposed against pain.

Stagnating in suffering

When we experience pain, we are given freedom to react to it. Our reaction and response is what initiates suffering. Suffering is something that is self-induced by the practice of focusing on the pain. By paying extra attention to, and obsessing over the source of pain, we inevitably align our present emotional and mental state with the pain which occurred in the past.

This causes us to live in the past, drowning in a state of pain associated with the moment in the past, thereby inexorably distorting our present experience. Suffering is a mental choice accompanying the attitude we adopt when challenged by adversity. If we don’t steal our moral self, we will succumb to the gravity of anxiety.

Such anxiousness will cause us to develop a parochial view towards life, causing us to view everything around us with disdain and contempt. By holding onto the past, we plague our perception with the memory of pain. Anxiety and the fear of the possibility of a repetition in the occurrence of pain will stagnate our ability to live life to the fullest in the present moment. This creates a vicious cycle of infinite repetition.

Tortuous trains of thought

Pain often incites emotional responses and internal feelings, which may be expressed externally in the form of crying. However, when this pain is carried forward into the creation of our thoughts and becomes the dominant subject of our mentality, suffering is born. On the excessive repetition of these thought patterns, we make suffering our natural state of being.

This implies that if we constantly opt to be victims of pain by inducing suffering then we will lose our choice in the matter and develop a habit of suffering. Such a habit is an outcome of intra-perception or self identification with the phenomenon of suffering. Such a dastardly and self defeating habit is furthered by the practice of self pity.

Roadblocks of resentment

Pain as a phenomenon must be used to enable readjustment of one’s actions. Physical pain demands us to be careful or pay attention to one’s body and its interaction with the world around us. Emotional pain on the other hand exposes chinks in our moral and mental armour.

Clarity of thought will aid us in acting on these cues and better our quality of life. If we choose to not take the requisite action and wallow in questioning our victimisation to pain, then we are fostering resentment. This resentment leads to the creation of a pessimistic attitude which binds you to the inevitability of pain. It also causes us to start blaming external circumstances for our internal delirium.

Resultantly, a poor mental state emerges, which creates roadblocks in the path of sound decision making.

Inner equilibrium

We can manoeuvre over the mountain of suffering by focusing on the horizons of possibility. Such a focus can be developed by balancing out internal thought processes and external response mechanisms.

Developing an acute sense of goal orientation is an effective method to overcome the pangs of past pain and drive optimistically towards the future. Another important tool is the art of letting go. This is possible when we cultivate acceptance by recognising both the inevitability of pain and the lessons taught by it. Our internal self must be supported by the practice of gratitude for all the good in our life, thereby shifting focus on the abundance offered by life.

Final thoughts

Pain is the necessary and inevitable jolt that life throws our way to remind us that we are alive. Our response to this pain determines the degree of suffering that we impose upon ourselves. We must develop a positive attitude towards the occurrence of pain by recognising its inevitability. A position of acceptance will empower our minds and liberate our souls from the unfortunate choice of suffering.

"The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of The Renaissance" 

About Daniel Kurian

Daniel Kurian K is an aspiring civil servant with a zeal for political phenomenon and a penchant for international affairs. He has now dipped his feet into analytical writing to give expression to his thoughts and find a voice for his ideas.

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