The exchange about “pain is inevitable; suffering is optional” included in the last post took place on the Community section of the web site for the Buddhist magazine Tricycle. This comment came in separately from a friend who is not in the Buddhist tradition. It is very much on point concerning the issues raised in that exchange.
Well, I read your “Opt In; Opt Out” post tonight, and although what Mike (Young) is saying here is not exactly clear from the quote alone (he doesn’t clarify what he means at the end about the “way not to suffer”—obviously, so I can’t comment on that part), but I was musing a bit on the statement “pain is inevitable; suffering is optional”, and I thought I’d share a few of my preliminary thoughts with you.
Assuming pain and suffering are, indeed, two separate things, what is each of them exactly? Yes, pain comes from too many strenuous physical activities (overexertion), from a bodily injury due to an accident, from infection, or from mere old(er) age (something that’s becoming more apparent to me each year—ha!, ha!), but what is suffering then? Could it be that suffering is not primarily physical but emotional, psychological, soulish? If so, maybe, in part, it is a choice—or a mind set.
I would have to agree that (physical) pain is inevitable; it’s not something we can “turn on or off” (of course, medication can help), but certainly, some measure of suffering does seem (to me) to be—maybe not our “fault” but yes, maybe our “choice”, despite what Mike Young says. I say this because I have had much pain over the past four years since my car accident, but I would not tend to express what I’ve experienced during that time as “suffering”—although I recognize that many might. It has certainly “kept me (physically) down”, restricted in my activity, but at the same time, many have found it hard even to remember that I am often still experiencing pain almost daily because, as they say, “ . . . You always have a smile on your face and are cheerful!”. I have pain, but I enjoy living nonetheless and don’t go around with a “heavy heart” or trying to draw people’s attention to my constant pain. I choose not to engage in “suffering”, while I do remain in pain on many days—I assure you—so, for me, the pain is basically inevitable (to some degree), but I don’t believe that my life exhibits, or is full of, suffering, or that people think it does, or is, when they see or interact with me. Maybe I’m wrong, but . . .
I suppose what I’m trying to “get at” is that suffering, at least when it’s defined not primarily as physical pain, seems (to me) to be connected, at least in part, to things like self pity, and/or to a feeling of not being in control of what’s happening (and maybe not trusting others or the situation(s))—i.e., maybe, in a word, to fear, or to a feeling of hopelessness, or maybe to a refusal to accept reality as it is because it’s not what we like (to experience or to be). Certainly pain is annoying, especially when it’s chronic—or even just bothersome, but it doesn’t have to consume us or be our continual focus in life. If it does become such, I think it’s because we do choose to allow it to do so.
When we get into self pity, our focus appears to be all on us and on how we deserve more or something better in some way. We’re discontented and unthankful for the many (other) good things (i.e., blessings) in our lives. And of course, choosing to wallow in self pity does not give us a good quality of life
When we’re fearful, we become vulnerable and weak; we lose courage and don’t feel capable of—sometimes much of anything (positive). We tend to feel scared and move and act very cautiously, or we “give up”, feeling overwhelmed by the circumstances and feeling like “victims”. It doesn’t feel good to live like this, and we suffer in our souls.
When we feel devoid of hope—believe that things will never get better, . . . well, living without hope is debilitating, and yes, I guess one could say that we suffer when in such a state of being. Certainly, I wonder if it is possible to have peace apart from hope; I think not.
Anyway, I apologize that these thoughts are not better organized and/or developed, but it’s been a long day.