“Pain is inevitable. Sooner or later, it touches all of us. Suffering is optional.”
It occurs to me after a couple of recent conversations with a friend that the above statement may not be interpreted correctly by everyone reading it. It never occurred to me before to explain it, because I thought it explained itself. We are once again at that issue of interpretation on word meanings.
I posted this a few days ago:
“There are times where one must face pain. It is a true test of devotion and faith. Pain is a war between one’s inner and outer being. Strength, however, is the overcoming and defeating of that pain without ever looking back.” ~ Zachary Zeiler
(To comment on this briefly, Zeiler is speaking half metaphorically, of course.)
The conversation that ensued left me admittedly confused.
Comment: “….I don’t know that I ever defeat pain. I “purge” it’s spiteful memories so that I may enjoy the next morning-(or minute-or hour-or day, etc) I don’t waste any more time with “pain” than it has already taken from me.-That is how I deal.”
My response: “If you purge, if you don’t waste time (energy), is that not defeating it? Ours is a society of warped definitions. Defeat conjures the image of hand to hand combat and a takedown by force. There are other ways to gain the upper hand than brute force.”
My friend then jokingly made a remark about banning her pain, and that’s where I got confused. It took a couple of days of thought and another conversation before figuring out we were having two different conversations. I won’t ask for a show of hands, but I am willing to bet that a lot of people think “suffering” is a reference to having physical pain. If it were, then the word would not be used to reference emotional distress and other unrelated events. It seems really important for me to address this issue since I invoke those words often. I am quoting a Buddhist proverb, by the way. If that reference helps… the subject of the quote is not purely about physical pain, and definitely not about whether it happens, whether you can control it, or how it feels. That would be ridiculous. The first two sentences tell us that – pain touches us all. It happens in life, unavoidably. You’re not trying to will it away in living by this philosophy because that would merely be a practice of denial and failure. Suffering by dictionary definition surely does mean (in the English language) “painful experience: an experience that is painful or distressing”, but in a proverb of this sort the translation has to be considered. The narrow and simple definition does not cover this proverb at all.
Wayne Hudson describes suffering as an experience of unpleasantness and aversion associated with the perception of harm or threat of harm in an individual. I’ll spare you the intricacies of Hedonism and Stoicism. Suffice it to say there are different forms of suffering and whether one chooses them or not is always within our personal control. I would go so far as to say replace the word “suffering” with the word “wallowing” just long enough to consider how that affects the meaning of the statement. We’re discussing a choice on how to process life events, not how to make them go away. I even took the time to look up what other people have discussed online to see how others describe the meaning of this proverb, and they all fail to define “suffering”, interestingly enough. They all say the same thing, in essence, and end it with repeating that it’s optional whether one suffers with their pain (of any type). That means nothing to the reader if they are still stuck with the same word definition. This is conceptual, not literal. Most can only relate it to physicality as well. I spoke before the weekend about facing demons. This is completely relative to that.
So PLEASE… when you read my posts, and my blog, do not misinterpret me to mean that you can just positive think your way to perfect health. I never imply that. I never imply that you can end your illness or prevent all pain by thinking a certain way. I have pain. I have pain every… single… DAY. I know pain really well. That’s one of my demons. It’s not going anywhere either. It went camping with me too. It came home with me. Yep. Still there. I choose however not to SUFFER. I choose, as I described in an earlier blog entry, how I wish to see my day and enact my choices regardless of the challenges. In spite of them sometimes, and others actually because of them, I will make choices toward my goals rather than toward defeat. I choose not to stop. I choose not to give up. Do I have off days? Of course. Do the off days stack up to me letting go of my goals? Not anymore! I still have things to do.
I hope that clarifies my purpose a little. 🙂 You’ll see me use a lot of philosophical quotes about pain, so they are usually not to be taken in a literal/physical sense even when applicable to dealing with physical pain. Sheer force of will is not how we face down demons or pain either one. Not effectively anyway.