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Suffering and pain – from the inside out

Suffering and pain are part and parcel of the human journey. We often try in every way to escape them. We call sadness an unpleasant emotion and pain an unbearable sensation. Often the first reaction to our children when they are hurt (mentally or physically) is : “It’s okay! You’re okay! Nothing happened!” Pain and sadness are difficult to bear, not only when we feel them on us, but also impossible to be present in the lives of our loved ones. A consequence of all this is the isolation into which the suffering person falls. The loved ones are there, but not really present. This is the moment when everything seems to be in excess. The feeling of being together and among people but alone.

Pain, whether psychological or physiological, is a sensation causing distress in our system. Pain can take different forms and have different manifestations, it can be chronic as well as acute. Pain can be a question or an answer and occurs when we come into contact with the environment. Pain protects our system from overloading, “breaking” or colliding. It “limits” and clearly sets the boundaries of our ability to be in contact with our environment and others.

The first and most natural reaction when it hurts is the desire to stop feeling, to isolate myself and to get away as quickly and as far away from everything as possible. Pain is our body’s alarm response and it is difficult to tolerate neglect. It supports our function for healthy functioning. Pain is the bridge from the inside out that unfolds the diversity and richness of our experiences. Pain comes to tell its story like Scheherazade.

What then is suffering? Suffering these are the mechanisms by which we “cope” with pain. We don’t always want to, or can, listen to this tale. The exclusion, the denial, the bypassing – all these are manifestations of our suffering. Suffering has to do with my refusal or inability to accept pain in my life.

Suffering is our creative adjustment to pain and its manifestations. Suffering is sometimes a protective function, a kind of attempt at anaesthesia. The adaptability of us humans is so varied that the forms of anesthetization are endless. Such can be alcohol, drugs, cigarettes, gambling, too much work. Anything that has the function to deliver us and fill the pain – to dull it.

Suffering arises from our inability to accept the situation as it is and our resistance to change things. It reminds me of my first swimming lessons. I was so terrified of the water and my inability to control it and be calm in it that I kept moving my legs. The paradox here was that the more I resisted, the more I ran out of air and felt the bottom pulling me in and pulling me out harder.I felt tired, terrified and powerless. Instead of trusting, I felt panic because I knew I didn’t have the resources built up to handle this situation. My adaptation was refusing to go in the water. One day, the coach had called my parents and advised them to wait a bit since I was spending the entire lesson in the showers.

Sometimes our sense of pain is so intense that it just seems as if we don’t have the resources to bear it. Adapting to the situation is our suffering because it is known and seen as an opportunity. I can’t bear the pain, so I choose to let it go, to detach from it, to deny it, to never feel it again, with which often comes a new and stronger dose of pain. An endless and hopeless circle that never closes completely.

Pain and suffering are present in our human journey from the first breath. Though harsh companions, they are always around us, like weathervanes. They are a reminder of all the beauty we have in our lives and its transience. Sending summer away doesn’t mean there won’t be a summer again! Saying goodbye to the last remaining leaf on the tree is just an opportunity and a preparation for the budding of spring. Clinging is our suffering, and letting go and trusting is the hope of beginnings and newness that have a place in our lives. Why don’t we ever ask ourselves how it’s not fair that winter is coming? We just know there will always be summer. We have the certainty and knowledge from our ancestors that nature follows its natural course and all will be well!

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