Pain and Suffering

From the work in progress Life: A Book About Learning to Live
By Jim Rosemergy

Every storm has an eye.  

I am no stranger to pain and suffering.  I used to think they were unwelcome companions on my life’s journey, but now I know they are just as much a part of the journey as I am.  I used to run from them or do whatever I could to avoid them.  Now I don’t seek them out, but when our paths merge, I am willing to enter the storm and find its eye.

Some people think pain is the tormentor of the body, and suffering the affliction of the soul.  I understand the definitions, but they don’t seem to help me when I am in pain or suffering.  When the hurt comes, there is no time for definitions or intellectualizing.  I am in the midst of it, and that’s the way it is.

Pain and suffering are messengers.  They tell us not only that something is wrong, but that a correction must be made, and often the remedy is much more than it appears.  For instance, touching a hot stove demands that we quickly remove our hand.  This simple act is often enough to stop the pain, but the experience calls for a more enduring lesson to be learned.  Pots are designed for hot burners; hands are not.  This is a lesson most of us need to learn only once.

Pain and suffering often persist because we are unwilling to make the necessary correction or to learn from our experience.  We hurt, and the expectation is that another person will make the correction.  Perhaps the other person does have a lesson to learn, but if we suffer, there is a lesson for us to learn as well.

For instance, when someone tells a lie about us, he obviously needs to make a correction, but if we hurt, we, too, have a lesson to learn.  We can confront the liar and tell him how we feel, but our greater work is to enter the storm of our feelings and find the eye of the storm where there is peace and the willingness to forgive.  This does not mean that we will become friends with the one who told the lie, but it does mean that in the place of pain is peace.

We usually try to avoid pain, but there are times when it comes not because we seek it out, but because we directly confront our weaknesses and unwholesome behaviors.  Anyone who begins to adopt a new way of life will most likely experience an inner resistance.  There is a part of us that resists change, even change that is for the greater good.  Every recovering alcoholic remembers the part of himself or herself that resisted sobriety.

Long ago the mystics directly confronted their “appetites” through fasting and celibacy.  They suffered, not because they considered it noble, but because they were seeking to break through into another consciousness where they were free and no longer driven by their earthly desires.  They sensed parts of themselves that they knew could be of service to God and humanity, and they were willing to face their souls’ resistance head-on in order to uncover hidden strengths and possibilities.

Most of us will not follow this path, but we share common ground with the mystics.  Often we confront difficult memories, people, and situations not only to move beyond them, but because we intuitively know that by standing our ground and facing them, we will discover whom we can be and whom we really are.

Often our suffering is fear.  We fear defeat or change or the disapproval of others.  Life challenges us, and in many instances we have no choice but to go forward.  Every step forward, even those taken as we tremble, takes us closer to the discovery of a strength that will not quit and a peace that does not depend upon circumstance.

Athletes do this as they train for their sport.  They experience pain as they push their bodies and condition them for the competition that lies ahead.  They practice so their moves and actions will be automatic because they seek to function beyond thought and to find a state of peace that enables them to play at the highest level and to be impervious to the pressure of the moment.  They seek to enter the storm of their own doubts and lack of confidence.

If this can be achieved during a game, then surely it can happen in life.  It is for us to enter the storms of our lives.  We enter the storm of grief, so we can live again.  We enter the storm of a doctor’s diagnosis, so we can find a wholeness that does not depend upon the state of our bodies.  We enter the storm of anger, hurt, and resentment, so we can forgive and love again.

When pain and suffering merge with our lives, let us be ready for them.  Pain resisted grows stronger, but when we enter into it and move to its center, its intensity diminishes.  Our resistance intensifies our suffering.  When we stand with it instead of against it, its power is lessened, and we are able to enter the eye of the storm.  Here, resting in peace while the storm rages around us, we find the wisdom, strength, and fortitude necessary to take the next step.

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