Thursday, June 9, 2016

Pain and Suffering: What Is and What Is Not

by John Boodhansingh of Zero Mindfulness

The Common Understanding

What is pain? What is suffering?

Generally, we think of pain and suffering as the same thing. Or, maybe with a small variation, that pain is more so what an original instance of hurt results in—ex: the physical hurt of a broken leg—while suffering is the sustained hurt that may come after—ex: physical hurt of a mending leg or the inability to be active during the healing process.

By definition, the dictionary describes each word using the other, and the thesaurus shows them as synonyms.

For the average person this understanding may be sufficient.

But in the world of self-help and spiritual growth, it becomes useful to draw a clearly defined line between the answers to, “What is pain?” and, “What is suffering?”

Drawing a Line

As the saying goes: We are not human beings having a spiritual experience. We are spiritual beings having a physical experience.

We are already spiritual. It is our inherent nature. It’s just that we cannot readily see this because physical life as we know it requires us to experience with veiled awareness.

The holder of this veil is ego.

The ego is important because it offers each of us, as spiritual beings who’re never truly disconnected from the One or each “other,” a sense of self, a unique personality. Where things get rough is when the ego goes untamed and sees itself, and thus the person sees his- or herself, as separate from everything.

The ego does this by creating all sorts of definitions or stories—beliefs—about life, the universe, and everything and holds them all as “true.” But remember, What we believe we perceive. By the nature of belief and the Law of Non-Interference, Life will not force us to perceive what we do not believe. If we choose to believe something, our perception will always make it appear as such, no matter how ridiculous our rationalization, even when the Truth is right before us. It's called cognitive dissonance.

So it is our personal beliefs which keep the veil in place. We choose to believe a story that is not real and so reality cannot reveal itself to us. Said simply: Our beliefs prevent us from experiencing what is.

It’s at the seam between what is and what is not where we must draw our line between, “What is pain?” and, “What is suffering?”

Should we never make this distinction, we will never really be able to decipher reality from illusion, between what is a fact of now-moment existence and what is a fabrication of the mind which needs not exist and exponentiates the hurt in our lives. This distinction is a requirement should we choose to step beyond the veil of physical existence and truly expand our conscious awareness into the realm of Inner Self or Spirit where neither illusion nor suffering exist.

Pain and Suffering

What is pain? What is suffering?

Pain is physical, bio-electric, now-moment hurt.

The body, the vehicle of mind, emotion, and soul, is always existing in this physical now-moment. When a leg breaks, the nerves at the point of trauma send their bio-electric signal to the brain, and the brain makes conscious the physical sensation known as pain. If the physical hurt remains in the leg for the next few months until healed, although drawn out, the hurt is still the result of a continuous stream of always now-moment bio-electric signals and so it is still only pain which is experienced.

Suffering, on the other hand, is a function of the mind. Suffering can be the result of two things:
  1. One or more mental stories/beliefs about any physical discomfort we experience.
  2. One or more mental stories/beliefs about any emotions which arise.
To the first point:

When we break a leg in this now-moment we have a choice: Do we accept what is, or do we create a story about what is which causes us to perceive what is not?

We can realize: “My leg is broken. There is great physical pain and a lot of blood. I see the bone sticking through my flesh. I need to call 911.”

Or we can say: “Oh-God!-Oh-God!-Oh-God! I’m going to die! This is the—Ahhhhhhh!—the absolute worst pain I’ve ever been in; the absolute worst day of my life! That bastard shouldn’t have been speeding! He’s over there talking to the police officer like nothing happened, and I’ve got this bone sticking out of my leg! This hospital visit is going to suck! I'm going to be in rehab for months! There goes my basketball career! Right down the drain! This should never have happened to me! I've always known this was a dangerous intersection!”

How exhausting.

Although the former instance may well come with more emotion than suggested by the above statements, it is an example of now-focused acceptance—"this is what happened and this is what needs to be done." Conversely, the latter scenario is a perception-clouding illusory tale relating the now-moment experience to prior beliefs and using them to color the present and future. The latter is a mental drama having no bearing in objective physical reality, or what is.

The second manner in which suffering can arise is in the rejection of emotion.

Emotion, no matter what that emotion is, is a natural part of the human experience. The only reason any of it appears “wrong” is because suppression-oriented “authoritative” institutions have told us it is so and we have believed them.

If we want to say emotion is ever “wrong,” then it would only be in our rejection and suppression of it and the intensity of harmful, emotionally-fueled action that may result when finally vented.

Like when we feel frustrated. We can feel the frustration, breathe into it, and let it pass.

Or... We can feel frustrated about feeling frustrated, which we “shouldn’t” ever feel, and so hang on to it rather than allowing it to pass through us... And perhaps then allow that frustration to evolve into anger, at which time we feel angry that we've become angry... And possibly follow up that by going into rage. But we "should never" feel rage, so we feel outrage that we feel rage at all... And then maybe, just maybe, our rage takes us into an utter berserk-mode frenzy of extreme violence... All because we refused to fully feel our initial bout of frustration under the mistaken belief that it was "wrong."

Just as we can experience and express “positive” emotion in a healthy manner, so too, with proper education and self-acceptance, can we express “negative” emotion in a healthy manner. This is possible because emotion is neutral. It’s not until we create a prior belief-based mental story in regard to the emotion we feel about a now-moment experience that an emotion becomes “positive” or “negative.”

If our car accident and broken leg fill us with anger, we have the option to use that anger either to talk to our city officials about improving the conditions at that intersection which we’d always known was dangerous, or as fuel to drop into rage and hire a hitman to kill the speeder.

The Summing Up

Pain is a bio-electric, always-in-this-physical-what-is-now-moment experience fact of life.

Suffering, although seemingly a fact of life, is the product of a now-moment experience overlaid by a fantasy story, about an experience, which exists only within the mind.

Since spiritual growth requires that we break down the veil of ego, it is most useful to draw a line between, “What is pain?”—that is: “What is physically and emotionally now?”—and, “What is suffering?”—“What is the mind’s illusory tale about what is physically and emotionally now?”

This delineation offers us one more important foundational support to aid in our clearing out of all that creates suffering: that which is false, fear-centered, repressive, past-based, and future-projected—not of this now-moment.

It is then with continued healing that Spirit can truly reveal itself from within us, that reality can clarify within our perception, and suffering can gradually come to an end.


Note: This text is a modified version of a post originally published on 10/8/13 to former personal blog “Without a Story.”

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