Jump to the following topics:
- What is suffering?
constructive and destructive aspects of suffering.
for dealing with pain and suffering.
What is suffering?
- 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),
- The energy tones might include any of the "negative emotions":
anxiety, fear, jealousy, envy, anger, disappointment, sadness,
depression, guilt, shame, worry, insecurity, etc.
- The thoughts might include the following:
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):
- 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.
- 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
- When we are enjoying a pleasure, we tend to fear its
end. For example, while we enjoy good health, we tend to
- 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.
constructive and destructive aspects of suffering.
- The constructive aspects of suffering.
The destructive 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.)
- 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.
for dealing with pain and suffering.
- Archetypal field-work.
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
We can reject the idea that suffering is a part of a deity's
- 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
- 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.
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).
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
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.
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.
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).
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.
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.
We can develop courage, to live life fully despite the
- 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
- 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.
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