Pain is an unavoidable part of life… Suffering on the other hand, that’s up to you!
From the emotional pain of heart break or the loss of someone close to us, to the physical pain of injury and sickness, we all feel pain at some point in our lives… But how much we suffer depends on how we respond to our pain.
A friend of mine recently went through some intense heart ache after a breakup with his girlfriend. Although the pain was intense, it was his mind that amplified his suffering.
Heart break or loss can be a time of great opening and growth, but understanding the difference between pain and suffering is the key to help you grow through the process if you find yourself in a similar situation.
Whether you’ve just hit your thumb with a hammer, been betrayed by a friend or been the target of bullying at work or school, pain hurts.
That might sound obvious but let’s stick with the broken heart for a moment to take a deeper look at what’s happening.
When we feel heart break, there’s a feeling of hurt. A pain inside that can vary with intensity. The emotion can be so intense that we feel it physically – a tightness or constriction in our body… Perhaps a sharp stabbing pain, a heavy crushing pain, or the feeling of something broken inside (it’s called “heart break” for a reason).
An important thing to understand about pain is that there is a simplicity to it.
Pain is pain. An intense feeling or sensation of discomfort.
It’s not complicated.
What makes our experience feel complicated is all the thoughts and stories that we layer on top of the pain – increasing our suffering.
Think of a time when you were hurt by someone. How did you feel?
Do you remember the pain? Or do you mostly remember the inner turmoil of your emotions? The chaos?
The pain triggered inside us after a breakup, is at its essence simple and pure… and part of life… The suffering is what we do with our mind.
Some of the many thoughts layered on top of the pain of a relationship breakup might go something like this:
“If only I could turn back time.”
“It hurts so much!”
“I’m an idiot for not understanding sooner.”
“I love him/her so much.”
“I just want to be with him/her.”
“I didn’t know what I had until he/she was gone.”
“We had such a deep connection, where did I go wrong?”
“I can’t sleep.” (besides the actual not sleeping, there’s also the thinking about it)
While all of these thoughts might feel justified in the mind, and some maybe true, the fact that they keep running around your head only serve to increase the chaos and inner turmoil and therefore the suffering. Whether you can justify them or not doesn’t matter. The problem is they keep playing over and over and over… and over, in your mind.
Thoughts trigger emotions, emotions trigger more thoughts… More thoughts and more emotions in a vicious cycle that goes on and on draining your energy. When your energy is low it’s hard to think clearly, so the cycle continues.
Our mind puts layers and layers of suffering on top of the pain, making our whole experience far more complicated.
To use another example:
Imagine you kick your toe on the leg of a chair. There’s the initial and immediate sensation of pain in your toe. It’s intense and it hurts.
A moment goes by and then a reaction; frustration, anger, thoughts and likely some strong emotionally fuelled words follow. Something like:
“What’s the chair doing there!”
“Who left the chair here?”
“F#*k… that hurts!”
“Look at my toe!”
“Did I break my toe? I think I broke my toe.”
“I can’t walk!”
“F#*k!… I’m bleeding.”
The pain has triggered an emotional reaction, and the reaction has amplified the suffering.
After a few minutes you might still be emotionally charged but the actual pain in your toe has gone.
Can you relate to this?
It’s the same principle when it comes to emotional pain.
So, what can you do to help yourself in situations like heart break?
Being with the Pain
When going through pain like this, we often just want the pain to go away, and there’s a natural tendency to try and escape the pain. But the key to easing your suffering is to be present with it.
The next time you experience the pain of heart break, allow yourself to just feel the pain. You can sit quietly by yourself or go for a walk in nature, but the goal is to simply feel the pain without mentalizing it… meaning let go of any thoughts and judgments that come up, and just feel it.
Don’t try to push the pain away.
You may experience all kinds of emotions coming up, that pull you away from the pain (amplifying the pain), such as anger, regret, sadness, self hate or grief… That’s ok! Just return to the sensation of the pain.
Your emotions are not bad. They’re not right or wrong. They have an effect… In this case they’re amplifying your suffering.
You’re not trying to achieve a specific result. The goal is to stay present with the pain.
Continue to stay with the pain and you may start to feel a sense of peace. Simply being with the pain can bring a profound sense of peace. Your mind isn’t complicating everything and torturing you, so it becomes a very intimate connection between you and the pain, taking you deeper and deeper into yourself.
The simplicity of pain. The simplicity of Truth.
The process is similar to meditation in that you maintain your awareness on an object (breath, mantra, heart etc), and whenever you realize you’re thinking, you return your awareness back to the object of your meditation.
In this case you’re letting go of thoughts and bringing your awareness back to the pain. Repeat, repeat and repeat.
Will it be easy?
Probably not. It will be challenging, but very worth it.
Will it be uncomfortable?
The definition of pain is discomfort… so yes, it will be uncomfortable. But remember this is not about ending the pain, it’s about easing the suffering that’s layered on top of it.
The more you can just be with the pain, the less words like “comfort” or “discomfort” define your experience.
The Grace of Time
With deep emotional pain or wounds one of the greatest healers is time. When we’re heart broken from a relationship break up or the loss of a loved one, we need time to heal. It may not happen over night, in a month or a year but there is a grace that comes with time.
It’s hard to say whether the suffering we put our self though extends the grace of time it takes to heal, or whether the suffering just makes it seem like it does, but when we can remain with the simplicity of the pain there are great openings and self-discoveries that can happen.