Pain ≠ Suffering

I understand pain. I am experiencing pain. Intense pain. Sometimes it drops me to my knees. Sometimes I yell out. Sometimes I feel nauseous. Sometimes I cry.

As I write this, I am laying in bed. It is difficult to sit or stand or walk. An electric, burning sensation shoots down the hip, through the thigh, knee, calf and into the foot. The sciatic nerve is a wire on fire.

It is painful to lay here; though less painful. A throbbing though the butt, hip, knee and calf. It is a relief.

I have experienced this pain for months and recently it got worse. You might know and understand chronic pain.

I understand suffering. Only some of the time I am suffering. Now, I’m not a spiritual scholar, so my definition of suffering may need some refinement. I see suffering as the existential distress and dissonance we feel when reality does not match our expectations and we feel powerless to change it.

There are moments that I allow myself to feel like a victim. “Why me?” and “Why is this happening to me?” and “Why isn’t this over already?” and “I should be doing x, y and z right now.” That is when I suffer.

When I recognize those thoughts, I step back, breathe and ask:

  • “Am I experiencing pain?”
    • Yes
  • “Do I deserve this pain?”

    • No
  • “Does having this pain mean that I am less worthy or loved?”
    • No
  • “Is this pain part of my identity?”
    • No
  • “Are you sure?”
  • “Do I want to suffer?”
    • No
  • “Do I deserve to suffer?”
    • No
  • “Does what thinking about what-could-or-should-be help me right now?”
    • No
  • ”What can I do, right now?”

    • Accept the reality of this moment. Care for myself. Allow others to care for me.

    ”How can I allow myself to move past this?”

    • Remain curious toward the lesson this pain is teaching.
  • “Does my body need real, deep rest to heal and recover?”
    • Yes
  • “Can I relieve pressure and expectations on myself?”
    • Yes
  • “Am I, or have I repressed emotions – especially sadness, hurt, anger and rage?”
    • I have released so much recently. I feel tapped out.
  • “That isn’t what I asked. Am I or have I repressed emotions?”
    • Yes
  • “Do you feel safe and ready to express and release them?”
    • Yes
  • “How will you do that?”
    • Through conversations. Through journaling. Through art. Through writing. Throwing around the steelbell, once I can move. Running when I can run.
  • “When will you start?”
    • Now

And so I choose to allow, explore, express and release, rather than to suffer.

We all experience pain and uncomfort. Sometimes it’s physical. Sometimes it’s mental. Sometimes it’s emotional. Sometimes it’s all of the above. We are human.

Pain does not equal suffering. Suffering is a choice. Sometimes conscious. Sometimes unconscious.

What are you choosing?