pain & suffering: the distinction

Last January, I fell on the ice and landed hard on my shoulder. I knew that I’d injured it, but figuring it would heal on its own, I picked myself up and continued walking with my husband and our two large dogs. For months I ignored the increasing pain that interfered with sleeping comfortably, and eventually impeded most daily activity. Finally, I found a great physical therapist, and over time, through her education and exercises, the shoulder has improved. The pain had been trying to get my attention.

Physical pain alerts us: something in the body needs our focus–an overstressed joint, uneasy digestion, headaches–whatever it might be. This is an important gift; otherwise we wouldn’t know that our body has been trying to work outside of its normal, healthy range. The pain pushes us to look for the cause and adjust. When we don’t take notice, it often gets worse until we are forced to attend.

Suffering–emotional pain–is also a gift, although we generally do not receive it as such. It’s the reminder that our thought patterns, and the attendant feelings that grab onto thoughts, are out of whack. We have separated ourselves from the whole yet again. So often in this culture we just live with the debilitating consequences. Doesn’t everybody? As scary and deeply painful as this kind of suffering may be, ignoring or stuffing it down does not make it go away! The opportunity is there in every moment: to stop, re-center in that-which-doesn’t-change, and inquire. Where, exactly, are we experiencing these feelings? If we set thought aside, are they purely physical sensations? Even though they may feel unbearable, stick with it. Do they remain steady, or do they come and go? If we’re honest with ourselves, it becomes apparent that they shift all the time; sometimes they’re present, sometimes not. Greeting and meeting them with patience, gentleness, and love is the finest and friendliest medicine.

© Skye Blaine, 2011

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