• There are countless theoretical approaches to understanding the universal problem of suffering. We start with the Buddhist conception, which sees pain as an inevitable and natural part of life, which is transient and always changing. Therefore if we attach to what is impermeant, we will suffer when it changes.
• The parable of the farmer and the Buddha shows that our biggest problem is that we believe we should have no problems.
• In these views, suffering occurs because, paradoxically, we think we should not be suffering!
• Pain is unavoidable, but suffering is optional. Suffering is pain plus our grasping, resistance, attachment or identification. Thus we can greatly reduce our suffering by changing how we deal with pain.
• The serenity prayer teaches us that we need the wisdom to discern between what is in our power to control (our mental reaction to pain) and what isn’t (the pain itself).
• According to Viktor Frankl, in the brief moment after pain, we have a gap where we can pause and decide what response we would like to have. We may evolve mechanisms to respond automatically, but we also have the power to choose our response if we are conscious.
• Cognitive behavioral psychologists recognize a similar principle, and explain how our minds can trap us in suffering. We experience pain and then immediately create a thought about it. This thought creates our feelings and a physiological reaction, for example, stress and tension in the body. In time, these feelings spiral out of control and manifest as behaviors that reinforce our original thoughts.
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Peter Hollins is a bestselling author, human psychology researcher, and a dedicated student of the human condition.
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