On my way to the gym this morning, I listened to one of my favorite motivation guys. His topic was how we should be grateful for pain and suffering just as we are for pleasure. He made quite a few good points and most of you reading this blog are already on his side.
Then I come along and assert that he’s mistaken. I say that we must embrace pain and reject suffering. Pain is a gift, or at least the inevitable consequence of being alive. Suffering is an altogether different matter.
I’m 54 years old and spent most of my adult life in physical pursuits. I was an infantryman, a street cop, a Border Patrol Agent, then a field medic. I damaged my right knee when I was fifteen playing foot ball. I hurt my back doing judo. My shoulder in an SCA war. Those are the only injuries I can point at and say specifically when it happened. But everything hurts. Everything hurts all the time.
But that’s just pain.
Pain is what it is.
Sometimes I grimace when I stand after sitting too long. When I slide under the bar to do squats, my left shoulder screams in agony. The pain is even worse when I rack the bar and try to lower my shoulder.
That’s pain. Its really no big deal.
Suffering is something completely different.
Suffering occurs when one commits energy and emotion to their resentment of pain. Suffering occurs when you become invested in a world that doesn’t exist where you don’t have pain. Pain can be alleviated by a nice epsom salt bath, some fentanyl, or a trip to Florida to kiss a girl you’re missing.
Suffering is alleviated only by letting go of the illusion that there could be life without pain. Or that there could exist THIS MOMENT without pain.
I keep saying that pain is unavoidable. I can’t think of any activity where you don’t have to accept the idea of pain. The ache in muscles when moving iron, the pain of impact during Muay Thai, the pain of a joint extended to its limits rolling jujitsu, the cramp in your foot when making love, that sacred pain that follows losing a loved one.
Pain is a gift and pain is the inevitable consequence of being alive. If you do crazy shit, have adventures and push your limits, you’re going to get injured. You’re going to smash your toe or your thumb or your nose. You’re going to love someone who doesn’t love you. Someone who loves you very much is going to lose their fight with cancer.
Suffering is avoidable. Suffering is a distraction. Pain must be embraced and suffering must be dispensed with. We must never waste our energy and our time and our strength wishing that things just didn’t hurt so much.
The most important tool in handling pain is to simply stop clinging to a state of affairs that no longer exists. My shoulder hurts EVERY time it gets pinned to the mat, every time I grasp that bar. I accept that. My oldest son has a damaged wrist that always hurts. Its not allowed to become a distraction. Its not allowed to take hold and become resentment.
Too, there are some pains that do not end. My shoulder, my knee, they always hurt. Always. My youngest son worries me endlessly. I miss him terribly every minute of every day. But its not suffering. I embrace that pain. I accept it. I do not let it distract me.
But that is the other way to confront suffering. If you resent the pain, remove it.
But we have to understand that some pains cannot be removed. If you lose an eye, its not growing back. When your sister dies, she is gone until you go to where she is with your ancestors. Your resentment, your suffering, cannot fuel a change that removes the pain.
If you get a splinter, remove it. If you’re broke and hungry, find a solution.
Pain will sharpen you. It cannot be avoided and is, in many ways, a thing to be sought, chased, pursued. Pain must be embraced.
Suffering is a distraction and must be cast aside.