pain, not suffering

Face FrontToSideViewMost people my age have experienced a painful tooth. I’ve got a whopper right now—the deep, pulsing ache in a lower molar that, over the decades, has already had lots of dental intervention. I took the obvious steps: I called my dentist (better today than tomorrow during the Super Bowl), and will dutifully take the remedies he suggests until Monday, when he said he will look at my x-rays and most likely refer me to an endodontist. This is physical pain—and today, is considerable.

I could also suffer over this tooth, which might include worry over whether the dentist’s remedies will bring relief until treatment is available, concern about this new specialist I’ve never met, obsessing over the cost of treatment, or dread about pain during procedures-to-come. I am intimately familiar with all of these ways, and many more, to incur suffering; they’ve been old, well-practiced companions.

Why would I invite suffering when I’m already in substantial pain? That would add yet another layer of misery on top of what is already uncomfortable. Because as a child, I was taught–even encouraged–to dredge up memories of discomfort I’ve experienced in the past, or imagine nightmare outcomes. This was modeled for me in countless ways, and not just in my family. This modeling was rampant among everyone I knew. I suppose there must have been exceptions; I can think of none.

It is so easy to inadvertently pass on this familiar, unconscious behavior to the next generation. I know I did, because my son exhibits some of the same patterns. But once patterning is in place and well-practiced, it is up to that person to unlearn and unwind the conditioning. No one else can do the work for us. My son and I have talked about this, and I’ve apologized. The very best I can do is model differently now.

We cannot avoid pain. Suffering is optional. Will we choose to leave it alone, or pick it up?

© Amrita Skye Blaine, 2014
photo credit

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