Each of us on a daily basis encounters pain. It can be a physical pain such as a backache, toothache, or headache. Or it can be psychological or emotional pain like situational depression, a broken heart, or anxiety. How we deal with the pain will determine how long it lasts, the after effect it has, and the influence it has on our life today and in the future.
Charles Fillmore, the co-founder of Unity Church, used to say that “pain was inevitable, but suffering was optional.” Wow, that sounds simplistic doesn’t it! But if we do not learn some techniques to work with the painful experiences we have as they appear we will end up suffering and often suffering for an extended period of time.
Brenda Soshanna in her wonderful book Zen Miracles: Finding peace in an insane world (2002), writes, “In Zen we learn how to feel and accept painful moments, to become larger than our pain. When we are willing to accept our experience, just as it is, a strange thing happens: it changes into something else. When we avoid pain, struggle not to feel it, pain turns into suffering (page 15).”
For example if you stub your toe on the leg of the bed in the morning when you are making the bed—man that hurts! You probably jump up and down on the other foot, hold your toes, and holler out: OUCH! OUCH! OUCH! If someone is near they may even run in to see if you are okay. But unless you broke one of the toes within a few minutes the pain seems to dissipate, you begin getting ready for work, and within a short time forget about the incident.
Brenda goes on to say, “There is an enormous difference between pain and suffering. Pain often cannot be avoided. Suffering can. As we learn the difference between them, many fears subside (page 15).” The pain of hitting your foot on the leg of the bed can be easily avoided. Tomorrow morning you can put on your shoes or slippers before making the bed, you could be more careful about how you walk around the bed, or where you place your feet when making the bed. Easy enough! Skip the pain—but make the bed!
Emotional or psychological pain is not quite as easy to fix and to keep from turning into “suffering.” Learning how to use meditation and contemplation in your life is one way to keep the pain from moving into suffering. And even if you get to the suffering meditating or sitting, as we call it in Zen Buddhism, can help shorten the suffering period. The longer we meditate and the more often we do it our ability to avoid the suffering is increased. And after sometime of practicing this technique what once took you several hours or days to minimize or eliminate the pain/suffering may take only minutes.
You may be thinking “that’s crazy” when I try to meditate and I have a problem it just runs round and round in my head taking over all the space, thoughts, energy, and time and no matter how hard I try it does not go away so I just end up getting up and I quit trying to meditate or sit.
Brenda suggests this: “In Zen, we learn how to feel and accept painful moments, to become larger than our pain. When we are willing to accept our experience, just as it is, a strange thing happens: it changes into something else. When we avoid pain, struggle not to feel it, pain turns into suffering (page 15).” So go for it, feel the pain, have what I call a “pity party.” When I am in emotional pain I allow myself to have no more than a 24 hour “pity party” and then I’m done.
I can have the “pity party” while I’m sitting, doing the dishes, standing in the shower, or making the bed. “Pity parties” can be done anywhere, anytime. Then get over it.
Then take the time to do what Brenda says, “We are not using others, ourselves, or the goods the world provides to ‘make’ our lives right. As we sit, we see how our lives are already right. And we say thank you (page 34).”
Mumon’s Verse may help you as well:
The spring flowers, the autumn moon;
Summer breezes, winter snow.
If useless things do not clutter your mind,
You have the best days of your life.
So the next time you feel the pain you can avoid the suffering altogether, remember Charles said it was optional, or you can do like I do have your “pity party” and then sit with the pain/suffering for a while and let it have its own “pity party.” Then be done with it. Remember that your life is already right, and so are you, say thank you and get on with your life! Let me know how it works out! The best days of your life are coming…