Pain is different than suffering. You stub your toe. A wave of unpleasant physical sensation comes and goes. The whole thing is done in 90 seconds or less. That’s pain. You could say that some degree of pain is inevitable in life.
But suppose after you stub your toe, you start thinking about what a lousy day it’s been, and how tomorrow is likely to be just as lousy. Or you think about your neighbor’s barking dog that kept you up all night–which is why you stumbled into the closet door this morning, half-awake, banging your toe. And come to think about it, this isn’t the first time your neighbor has caused you harm. There was that time when . . .
So on and so forth. That’s suffering. Suffering is the story you tell yourself–and likely anyone else who will listen–about the pain. This story usually points blame at someone else. We like to make our experience of pain into a drama, a complex tale of heroes and villains. Holding onto these imaginary roles perpetuates suffering.
Pain happens. But if you let it, pain lands relatively briefly, like a bee sampling a flower, then moves on. Pain may be unavoidable, but suffering, to a large degree, is optional.
About the Author: James Robbins is a licensed professional counselor, published author and co-owner of Dallas Whole Life Counseling. He has over 15 years of experience helping people in various life stages that come from a wide variety of cultural, economic and family backgrounds. Learn more about his background by clicking here.