Pain is probably one of our most universal experiences. We feel it when we are born. We feel it when we die. We feel it countless times throughout our lifetime in a spectrum of different ways.
But does pain necessarily equal suffering?
As I’ve written recently, I’ve been laid up a bit these past few weeks with a bad neck and a resulting flare up of my panic/anxiety issues. I think is is safe to say that some days there was both pain and suffering present as I was laid out on the sofa.
Not only was I hurting and unable to do what I wanted to do, but I was frequently thinking about how frustrated I was that I was hurting and unable to live my normal life. Not only would I think about it, but I would share my worries and complaints with whoever would listen.
Eventually I got tired of hearing my own self complain.
One day for a change of pace, I asked my husband how things were going preparing for the Mindfulness class that he was to start up that afternoon. He shared how they were going to start with the raisin meditation and then shift into discussing the difference between the Doing State and Being State.
Thinking I had been involved with a lot more being than doing lately, I asked him to refresh my memory on the differences.
“Oh, the doing state is where we get caught up with where we should be and what we think we should be doing. The being state is where we let ourselves be just where we are. We accept the present without struggle,” he said.
Oh, man. At that moment, I was amazed at just how much Doing I had been accomplishing laid up there on the sofa.
And here I thought I had hardly been able to do anything at all.
But really what I had been doing most was making myself suffer.
The pain in the neck may have been inevitable. And to a certain degree some of the anxiety may have been inevitable as well.
But my lack of acceptance of the pain and my limitations was a choice that I was making.
A choice that was leading to much unhappiness and stress in my life.
I cannot say that after that epiphany I have ceased to suffer at all. But I am trying to lean into being present where I am and letting that place be okay. Even if there is some pain involved. Even if it involves adjusting my expectations on what life should look like.
And sometimes it works. Like on the MRI table today when I initially thought “Oh my God, how and I going to lay still and listen to this loud noise bang in my ear for 30 minutes to an hour? This is going to be a nightmare!” But then I took a breath and started making up songs to the rhythm of the banging. Songs about healing. Songs of prayer. And in a little while I heard the voice of my tech telling me the test was over and how great I had done. Mostly because I had allowed myself to be present in that long white tube of noise.
So the next time your life is not quite living up the the ideal that you had hoped it would be (and honestly, when does it ever?) Maybe you’ll allow yourself to let go a little? To release yourself from the struggle to be where you think you should be and just allow yourself to be where you actually are?
Even if that place holds pain.
We cannot remove all of the pain from our life. Oh, how I wish we could. But we can eliminate some of the suffering that comes with fighting pain. And we can allow ourselves to find moments of joy and gratitude wherever we are.