How to Ease Suffering
Pain is a normal part of life. We can all expect to experience pain throughout our lives. We will lose people we love, experience great disappointment, and may be impacted by health issues or other chronic stressors.
The pains of life can cause suffering.
How may something painful, like a failure, break-up, or feeling inadequate, contribute to ongoing suffering? It could be because we are resisting the pain.
What is resistance? Resistance is not wanting to accept something as it is. We can try to resist pain in a variety of ways. Some examples include resisting with our:
Avoidance of feelings
“what we resist persists” – Carl Jung
The tricky part is that “what we resist persists,” suggesting that the more we try and resist what is, the longer that pain may stick around. This can contribute to worsened suffering over time. While pain is a fact of life, resistance is something we can aim to improve. A few strategies are reviewed below and this may also be a helpful visualization to keep in mind:
Suffering = Pain x Resistance
Pause, Note & Redirect
We may have a typical form of resistance that we easily (habitually) turn to – such as over-eating or becoming frustrated. Before we can turn toward change, we must become aware that we are resisting. Mindfulness can help. When we notice a behavior, emotion, or thought that could be serving as resistance, we could practice:
Pausing – Stop and take several deep breaths
Noting – What is painful right now? How do I know (thoughts, feelings, sensations)?
Redirecting – Shift the energy in a direction of self-love and kindness
Rather than trying to resist pain and suffering, we can practice showing ourselves love and kindness (self-compassion). Over time, we may become more skilled at holding our pain with acceptance and understanding. It does not mean that the pain will disappear, but it presents an opportunity to relate to pain in a nurturing, supportive way.
Emotions As Information
Emotions can influence how we behave, interact with others, and experience being with ourselves. A mindfulness practice can also help us increase awareness about our emotions, without becoming swept away by emotions.
With increased awareness of our emotional experience, we have an opportunity to become curious about emotions (rather than resist emotions) – as though we were asking, “what information could this emotion be giving me?” For example, perhaps we need to make a change, communicate, set a boundary, take action or slow down.
Here a few examples of questions we may ask ourselves in response to a few different emotions:
Anger: Is something unfair?
Sadness: Does something need to be processed or released?
Fear: Is there a real threat of danger?
Anxiety: Do I need to face something?
There are many ways we could aim to increase awareness of our emotional experience, such as:
Referencing a “feelings wheel”
Mindfulness and meditation
Speaking with a friend or family member
Seeking professional help
“What you feel, you can heal.”
John Gray, Ph.D.
It can hurt to work toward accepting what causes us pain. The process of accepting that a relationship with someone you loved is over… accepting that your dog has died… accepting that you did not get the promotion at work – can hurt. At times, this can be why we try to resist – we may be trying to modulate the pain as we work through difficult times.
Rather than trying to resist pain (which is typically a temporary fix at best), we could try working through pain by balancing it with meaningful routine. Developing a meaningful routine presents an opportunity to balance our awareness of pain and efforts to move toward acceptance of pain with moments of peace, joy, and fulfillment.
To help create a meaningful routine, we could consider soothing activities, such as:
Being in nature
Listening to music
Cooking nutritious meals
Spending more time resting
Taking a break from your phone
Or, more energetic activities:
Going somewhere new
Trying a new sport
Cleansing your space
Closing Note & Support
Something that these strategies have in common is their dependence on being aware of our inner experience. Being attuned to what we think, feel, and sense is an important foundation upon which our enhanced functioning can be built. With this increased sense of knowing, we can also become more skilled at offering ourselves what we need in that moment; we can become more self-compassionate.
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