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What is suffering?  

  1. It is a state of emotional and mental distress which arises when we are experiencing pain. The pain is merely a sensation; the suffering is our personal "negative" response to the pain. The response includes thoughts, images, energy tones (i.e., emotions), and actions.
  2. The energy tones might include any of the "negative emotions": anxiety, fear, jealousy, envy, anger, disappointment, sadness, depression, guilt, shame, worry, insecurity, etc.
  3. The thoughts might include the following:
    • I don't deserve this pain.
    • This pain should not be occurring.
    • I hate this pain.
    • This pain makes me less than I should be.
    • The pain implies that I am a flawed person.
    • I am worried that I will feel more pain in the future.
    • There is too much pain in my life at this time.
    • There has been too much pain throughout my life.
    • This pain implies that the world is a cruel place.
    • Pain is a bad thing.
    • I am a helpless victim.
    • The world is evil.
  4. According to the Buddha, suffering is a fundamental state of life. Certainly, pleasure does exist, but suffering is still present during that pleasure, because (according to Buddhists):
    • Every pleasure is "incomplete." It does not give perfect pleasure. The difference between our ideal and our actual experience can be experienced as suffering.
    • Every pleasure ends eventually (simply because the world is constantly changing, and so the pleasurable object will change or depart).
      • When we are enjoying a pleasure, we tend to fear its end. For example, while we enjoy good health, we tend to fear disease.
      • When the pleasure does end, we tend to be attached to that past pleasure; for example, we experience pleasure with a person, and then we "miss" the person when he or she is not here. And we experience grief.
    • Some pleasures are never attained. In those cases, we might experience the unpleasant energy tones of disappointment, sadness, envy, etc.

The constructive and destructive aspects of suffering.  

  1. The constructive aspects of suffering.  
    • Suffering draws our attention to a problem in our lives. While we might ignore mere pain, suffering is so unpleasant that it compels us to examine the problem.
    • Suffering leads us to examine the deeper issues of our life. While we might associate pain with a particular situation, suffering is associated with broader issues: the nature and meaning of life, the nature of ourselves (and our character), the nature of our deity (who apparently allows pain and suffering to occur), the nature of desire and attachment and karma, etc.
    • Suffering can increase our empathy and compassion with the conditions of other people. (However, we might be able to increase empathy and compassion without suffering.)
    • Suffering helps us to recognize pleasure, by providing a contrast to that pleasure. (However, we might be able to recognize pleasure simply as the counterpart to pain, without having to experience suffering.)
  2. The destructive aspects of suffering.  
    • Suffering can be so intense that it distracts us from the goodness of life. We adopt a global view that "life is bad."
    • Suffering can be so intense that we give up; we stop trying to explore and change conditions. We withdraw from life, and we might even commit suicide. Or perhaps we become neurotic; Jung said (in Psychology and Religion), "Neurosis is always a substitute for legitimate suffering."
    • Suffering can be so intense that we repress our awareness (including our awareness of the condition which is causing the pain). We numb ourselves.
    • The thoughts, images, energy tones, and actions which are associated with suffering linger in our archetypal fields. Therefore, when this archetypal situation occurs again, we tend to evoke those same "negative" elements, which distort our perception of this unique situation.

Techniques for dealing with pain and suffering.  

  1. Archetypal field-work.
    • Self-talk. For example: "Pleasure and pain are parts of life." "I find happiness in the present moment." "Life is ultimately for my good." We refrain from using self-talk which attaches a destructive meaning to our pain; some of those destructive self-talk statements are in the list of "thoughts" in the first part of this chapter.
    • Directed imagination. We can visualize ourselves experiencing pain without experiencing suffering; in this visualization, we might see ourselves with a calm smile on our face.  
    • Energy toning. We can generate the energy tones of patience, peacefulness, hope, contentment, etc.
    • The "as-if principle." We can act as if we can endure pain without creating suffering.
  2. Intuition. Intuition can reveal the cause of the pain, so that we can resolve it. And intuition can guide us in our response to the pain, so that our thoughts, images, energy tones, and actions do not create suffering. Intuition can also help us to recognize the archetypal aspect of the situation; thus, we see that we experience a similar pain whenever this archetypal situation occurs.
  3. We can reject the idea that suffering is a part of a deity's plan.
    • Suffering is not virtuous. Some religious people believe that our suffering is pleasing to a deity, and so they cause suffering in their lives; in medieval times, some people would cause suffering by whipping themselves, or by wearing hair shirts.
    • Suffering is not a deity's means of punishing us for simply being a human.
    • Suffering is not a deity's means of testing us. Life itself tests us; the suffering is added by ourselves.
  4. We can explore the reason for the pain. We can accept responsibility for creating the conditions which are causing pain. For example, if we are suffering with a physical illness, we might discover that the illness is a result of our unhealthful behaviors (e.g., smoking cigarettes).
  5. We can accept our pain. We can "accept" pain while still disliking it, and while working to change the unpleasant conditions. Acceptance simply means that we are willing to acknowledge the pain's presence, so that we can perceive it clearly (instead of repressing our awareness of it). We stop resisting and fighting the simple reality that this pain exists; some of our suffering is our hatred of the pain. In addition to the acceptance of this particular pain, we accept the fact that pain is a natural part of life. Carl Jung said, "Suffering is not an illness; it is the normal counterpole to happiness."
  6. We can explore the sensation of pain. The pain is not a "thing" in itself; instead, it is merely a sensation which we have labeled as "pain." Our exploration does not end the pain, but it can be an interesting education into the nature of pain and suffering. And, while we are exploring the pure sensation, we are not suffering; i.e., we are not aggravating the pain with any intensifying thoughts, images, energy tones, or actions.
  7. We refrain from numbing ourselves to our emotional pain. We do not use alcohol, drugs, and other means to avoid pain. If we numb ourselves to pain, we simultaneously numb ourselves to pleasure and to life itself.
  8. We can accept change. When change occurs, we detach from "what was," and we accept what is here now, because it is life. We can "live in the moment." Some suffering occurs because we are looking at the past (and the apparent pattern of pain in our life) or the future (and the possibility of more pain in the future).
  9. We can love the thing which is experiencing pain. For example, we do not hate our painful elbow; instead, we offer love, compassion, and healing.
  10. We can do shadow-work, to experience the pain which we have repressed earlier in our life. Shadow-work can help us to resolve that lingering pain.
  11. We can develop courage, to live life fully despite the occasional pain.


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