I learnt a big lesson about pain and suffering this week. Pain - both physical and emotional - is unavoidable in life, because we have a body. Emotional pain - in the form of sadness, grief, fear, anger or a messy combination of all these darker feelings - is damned uncomfortable but it’s actually nothing to be afraid of.
If you are prepared to turn towards the pain with great compassion, to explore its contours and textures, tastes and smells, its hills and valleys - what you’ll find is not more pain but more of who you really are.
But what often happens when you’re in pain is that you start telling yourself a story about how unbearable and devastating it is, and it turns into suffering. If you get stuck in suffering you separate yourself from the pain you don’t want to feel and it doesn’t shift. You perpetuate the pain and if you’re really clever with the story, it starts to become part of your identity: “I hurt, therefore I am.”
I can talk about this with great authority because I got stuck in a suffering story for years and years. In fact, the same script hijacked me last week and it took a random (if there is such a thing as random) glance at A Course In Miracles to help me see through the story.
Since then the pain has gone. It might come back, but if it does I’ll dive into it and out the other side. I know I’m on the right track with this because of a wonderful synchronicity. In the midst of all this I received a newsletter from Robert Augustus Masters, author of the brilliant book Spiritual Bypassing. Its title: Pain Versus Suffering.
In his view, pain is just unpleasant sensation. Suffering is something we are doing with our pain. It is a choice. Suffering can be overwhelming - but it is optional. Suffering is a way of dramatising our pain, making a gripping story out of it.
So far from bringing us closer to our pain, suffering keeps us from the naked reality of our pain: we’re too busy telling a victim story about it. As Masters says, the healing of pain is in pain itself.
“And there, in that place of hurt, we meet not more hurt, but more us. More healing, more peace, more welcome.”
Here endeth my lesson: not in pain, but in release.