Suffering is Optional

Be curious about your pain and you’ll find that though it may not be optional, the pain of your reaction is.

By Christina Feldman (originally published in Yoga Journalface_andrea

Aging, sickness, and moments of pain are intrinsic to the life of all of our bodies. Bodily pain comes in many guises—some of it is chronic, some temporary, some unavoidable. Our first response is to resist it. We have numerous strategies to ward pain off, to avoid it, or to camouflage it with distraction. Aversion, terror, and agitation interweave themselves with the experiences in our bodies and we are easily lost in dread and despair. Our bodies may even be seen as enemies, sabotaging our well-being and happiness. When we are enmeshed in this knot of fear and resistance, there is little space for healing or compassionate attention to occur.

And yet we can learn to touch discomfort and pain with an attention that is loving, accepting, and spacious. We can learn to befriend our bodies, even in the moments when they are most distressed and uncomfortable. We can discover that it is possible to release aversion and fear. With caring and curious attention, we can see that there is a difference between the sensations occurring in our bodies and the thoughts and emotions that react to those sensations. Instead of running from pain, we can bring a curious and caring attention into the heart of pain. In doing so, we discover that our well-being and inner balance are no longer sabotaged. Surrendering our resistance, we find that pain is no longer intimidating or unbearable.

No one would suggest that learning to work skillfully with pain is an easy task, however, or that meditation is a way to fix pain or make it go away. Sometimes we are overwhelmed and we can learn to accept this too. In moments when the intensity of pain seems unbearable it is fine to take our attention away from it and connect with a simpler focus of attention such as breathing or listening for a time. When our hearts and minds have calmed and feel more spacious, it is the right moment to return our attention to the areas of pain in the body.

There are also times when it is often possible to dissolve the layers of tension and fear that gather around pain and to embrace it with greater spaciousness and ease. We may even find a deep inner balance and serenity in the midst of pain. These are moments of great possibility and strength. Working with pain, learning to accept and embrace it, is a moment-to-moment practice in which we release helplessness, despair, and fear. This is in itself healing and teaches us the way to find peace and freedom within the changing events of our bodies.

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