The Difference Between Pain and Suffering
“I’m just getting tired of the pain. First it was in one place, now it’s another… and I just want it to GO AWAY. I’m getting frustrated and angry and depressed and I can’t think about anything else because it’s always there and I’ve tried everything and nothing helps!!”
I hear some variation of this desperation every single week, and it's always a little heartbreaking. Yes, we all have pain from time to time – a sore lower back, a kink in the neck, a headache or migraine - and it sucks. But usually these things get better after a few days or weeks, and we carry on happily until the next thing crops up.
When persistent, all-consuming pain shows up, it’s a very different story. So often these pains carry a very strong emotional component. When we feel them, we SUFFER. We get angry, frustrated, sad, exasperated, and really really wrapped up in the experience of pain, in the emotional suffering associated with it.
It’s hard to say which is worse, really - the pain or the feels. Not that it matters, as it’s pretty impossible to separate the two – the painful feels, the “feel”y pain. Rough stuff.
Acupuncture is good at this kind of pain - scary good. And I don't think it's necessarily because the needles "make the pain go away". I think it's because the needles relax us, and give us some space to be able to feel the feelings - the physical pain, the emotional pain - without making us want to run away as far and as fast as we can. It's almost like acupuncture allows us to surrender to the experience of pain. And as much as we feel like surrender means giving up, means failing, means losing - I think that sometimes it is the only real option for change, for growth, for healing.
"The final freedom is not freedom from the world. It's freedom in the world. Being "in the state of flow" doesn't mean we spend all of our time in bliss... Flow means allowing ourselves to be surrendered to life, to the way it is, and to forget ourselves in pure involvement in our work, our task at hand, our love -- without worry over the outcome."
Stephen Cope, "Yoga and the Quest for the True Self"
What if when the pain and the feels come up, we attempt to surrender?
What happens if we trust? What if we relax?
What if we allow ourselves to just experience the things, without trying to wish them away?
Feel all those disgusting, awful, nauseating feelings... and do the unthinkable. Enjoy them. Relish them.
Cause this, my dear - this is the stuff of life. Those feels are the cost of admission for the game of being human. They are an integral part of it. You may have been able to outrun and avoid them for 10, 20, 30 years... but they have now caught you in their grip and do not appear to have the slightest inclination to let you go.
Feel that pain. Feel it turning your stomach upside-down until you can barely hold back the nausea. Feel it in the trembling power of your rage, the rapid heartbeat of your tortured indignation. Feel it in the ache, the weary heaviness of your very bones, in the exhausted voice that finally whispers, "I give the fuck up. I'm done. Let me go. Let me ease into that calm numbness that will soothe me, that will allow me to feel safe enough to rest, safe enough to trust that maybe - just maybe - tomorrow could be better."
"The essence of life is that it's challenging. Sometimes it is sweet, and sometimes it is bitter. Sometimes your body tenses, and sometimes it relaxes or opens. Sometimes you have a headache, and sometimes you feel 100 percent healthy. From an awakened perspective, trying to tie up all the loose ends and finally get it together is death, because it involves rejecting a lot of your basic experience. There is something aggressive about that approach to life, trying to flatten out all the rough spots and imperfections into a nice smooth ride.
To be fully alive, fully human, and completely awake is to be continually thrown out of the nest. To live fully is to be always in no-man's-land, to experience each moment as completely new and fresh... Death is wanting to hold onto what you have and to have every experience confirm you and congratulate you and make you feel completely together. Even though [we think that we have] fear of death, it's actually fear of life."
Pema Chodron "When Things Fall Apart"