On pain and suffering

I’ve slowly been reading my way through¬†Being with dying¬†by Joan Halifax. I’m finding it to be a thought provoking read. The last chapter I read was on pain and suffering. Joan Halifax is a well known Buddhist teacher so those who follow that tradition will possibly not find this to be a novel thought, but it certainly was to me.

In our culture we are terrified of pain. We avoid pain (physical and emotional) at all costs. Usually by using some kind of numbing behaviour, or indeed a numbing substance! For many us, perhaps even the vast majority of us, there is no distinction between pain and suffering. If we are in pain we must be suffering.

But Halifax makes an interesting separation: ‘Pain is physical discomfort, while suffering is the story around the pain. …. The first arrow, the sensation of pain, is bad enough. But it’s the second arrow–the story we tell ourselves about our pain–that’s the real trouble.’

This idea is fascinating to me. I’ve struggled with physical pain for the last 16 months. It is nothing too dramatic, mostly it is rather mild, with occasional escalations. The most recent variant has been situated in my hip which had made walking (my favourite way to unwind) uncomfortable.

Just in the last few days, since reading this chapter, I have been watching myself. When I am able to separate pain and suffering I am far better able to cope with the pain. It is much more manageable and much less threatening. When the pain gets worse, I am more able to simply accept that it is worse, rather than immediately considering the potential implications. In noticing the variation in the pain, I am also able to see, far more quickly when it diminishes as well.

I suspect that it will take me a long time to really begin to live with what is, rather than immediately creating a story around it.

3 thoughts on “On pain and suffering

  1. YES. I have been thinking about this but couldn’t quite find the words that you have. Each day I wake up framing the story of my illness in a slightly different way. That’s natural, and I try not to beat myself up about sometimes the story being sadder than others. Thank you for this.

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