There’s a Buddhist proverb that I’m sure many of you have heard before: “Pain is inevitable, suffering is optional.”
This teaching came up for me very strongly the other day. The proverb doesn’t just refer to physical pain, but also emotional pain. And my heart has been feeling emotional pain lately associated with witnessing loved ones suffer. Not gonna lie, I’ve had some restless nights recently.
So what’s the difference between pain and suffering? Pain is the actual physical or emotional situation. Suffering is caused when the mind ruminates on negative thoughts, which causes distressing emotions such as anxiety, fear, depression, anger, hopelessness, helplessness, frustration, loneliness, shame, and irritability.
Negative thinking is natural - it’s the mind’s way of trying to keep some part of us alive, safe, and protected. Only, it does the opposite and makes painful or “bad” situations, worse.
So when this proverb came to mind the other day, I made a choice: be present to the day instead of getting caught in a negativity loop in my mind.
I enjoyed breakfast with my husband and the warmth of the sunshine streaming into our porch. I was gratefully content in my home. I chatted with my mom on the phone and finished some chores Practiced yoga, meditation, Buddhist study group. The start of an average, cozy Sunday at home. Nothing in any of those moments caused me pain…
And yet, because negativity is persistent, it kept trying to creep into my mind. Each time it did, a deeper voice of knowing immediately followed the worry and said: “suffering is optional.” This reminder was powerfully soothing to my heart and helped me to come back to the present moment again and again. Like a mantra from my soul. A living meditation to help me steer clear of suffering.
This is where a consistent meditation practice can help us to become good at life. Because meditation is a practice of training the mind to come back to the present moment. It doesn’t mean negative thoughts will never arise, but it will give you a transformative tool to use anywhere, at any time, to help you to respond to it.
It takes practice.
Look, this sort of work and practice isn’t about ignoring issues that need to be dealt with in your life, or suppressing uncomfortable feelings. It IS about taking one step at a time if you’re in a painful situation and feeling all of it.
The Second Chakra, Svadhisthana, reminds us that it is our birthright to feel our feelings…we must allow them to come up so we can release them from our bodies.
So check in with your body - does the pain need your immediate attention? If so, then absolutely do what you need to do to tend to the pain….feel it, sit in the fire of it, release it from your body with movement, reach out for support, express your emotions. This is healthy and healing.
Suffering is different - it’s the tendency many of us have of borrowing problems from the future instead of living in the present moment of what is happening.
When your mind is trapped in negative thinking around a situation, causing you to be in further distress, practice being present. The senses are the gateway to experience the external world. Sight, sound, touch, taste, and hearing give us immediate access to the present moment. Center yourself on your senses, a thousand times a day if you need to. Mantras that speak to your heart are hugely helpful as well.
The pains of life are inevitable; suffering is optional.
My life’s work in yoga, reiki and chakra coaching focuses on this exact kind of shift - from ruminating on negativity to living in the present moment. If you’d like guidance in making this shift, all of my offerings (yes, even the yoga retreats) are designed to support you.
I share below an inspiring story about a glass of water that gives a felt sense of how the stresses and worries of life create suffering.
May there be peace and contentment in your heart, in your head, and in your home.
With love, Angela xo