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On Pain and Suffering: The Balance of Effort and Surrender

How Soon Can you Let it Be Over?

If there is one thing yoga has taught me, it is self-awareness. In fact, at the very heart of the science of yoga is self-study, with the understanding that to know yourself is to know others. A grand and liberating discovery we often make in this journey of self-discovery is that we create our own suffering. I have found, over the years that reactions to that statement vary. People who are in the habit of thinking like victims don’t always like to hear that the world hasn’t actually done anything to them. They just decided to take it personally. It is not an accusation. It is an empowering and liberating statement. Here’s why:

Pain and suffering are not the same thing and don’t always occur together. If you’ve never been told that or thought about it before, you might just read it a couple more times and let it sink in a bit. Pain in this life is inevitable. The very process of being born is painful, so if you exist, you have felt pain. Our bodies, minds and hearts all feel or understand pain. It is a signal to us that something is happening with us. Pain will cause you to react and pull your hand back from a hot pan when it is being burned. Pain will cause you to reevaluate your relationships with others and either renegotiate the relationships or release them. Pain is an opportunity, you see, for growth and understanding.

Suffering is something entirely different, however. Suffering is what we think of the pain, not the situation that caused the pain. Suffering is the emotional energy we invest in pain. Suffering is a choice. You might just read that last sentence a couple more times, as well. If it is a new concept, it might just change your approach to life. If you are in the habit of really getting in deep with your suffering, it will seem impossible that you could choose something otherwise. Suffering is simply our attachment to our pain, our ownership of and identification with it.

There is peace and comfort in realizing and accepting that painful occurrences are simply part of life. They are inevitable. If you live in fear of them, you cause your own suffering. If you resist them when they arrive, avoid or ignore them, you cause your own suffering. If you relive the pain of the past through repeated memories, like replaying an old movie again and again, you cause your own suffering. How soon can you let it be over? This is something my students hear me say when they come to savasana, final rest, after a really inspired and challenging hatha yoga practice. How soon can you release the effort and intensity of it? How soon can you relax away from it? How soon can you allow yourself to fully rest? That is a skill that comes with self-awareness and practice.

So practice it! When you feel pain, take a moment to first recognize it. If it is a physical pain, the issue might already be resolved. You pulled your hand away from the hot pan, and now your hand will heal itself and the pain will be over soon enough. If the physical pain lasts, more action or simply acceptance might be necessary. If it is emotional pain, recognize it. Is there some aspect of your life that needs your attention? Maybe something is out of alignment with your morals and ideals and needs a little work on your part? If it is out of your control, your work is in acceptance to lessen the suffering. The most painful experience of my life was the moment I was told my daughter has a genetic disorder that will cause life threatening illness in her repeatedly throughout her life. My work was in accepting that fact, so that I would not live a life of constant suffering. I have relived that traumatic moment many times, each time observing my own reaction and suffering, and practicing letting it go and moving toward peace and ease in the situation. This is most difficult for me when I feel powerless in a situation. I am a fixer by nature, so acceptance was my most difficult task. What a beautiful lesson I was offered by her illness! Seeing it that way is a choice!

When a painful moment occurs, can you simply observe your own reaction to it? Observe your own thoughts and feelings about the pain. Notice how they cause lasting suffering. Many times, just noticing will change your reaction. There might not be a lot of “work” to be done, because who really wants to suffer?

These concepts might not be new to you, but maybe you just needed a little reminder. May it bring you some relief from suffering.

Peace and Love to you.


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