Pain versus Suffering

Pain and suffering are a part of our human experience. But, pain and suffering are two very different experiences. Sometimes I have pain when I run and sometimes I suffer - they are not the same. Often, we confuse the two and use them interchangeably.

Physical pain is an unpleasant sensation such as stubbing your toe, having a headache, the burning sensation in my lungs running uphill, which causes your nerves to send a signal to your brain that you are hurt. That is supposed to motivate us to withdraw while we heal - to protect our bodies from damage or death. It is important to know when and how to push through this type of pain and when to seek the help of a physician.

Emotional pain is caused by harm to our social connections such as a loss, shame, hurt feelings; which can lead to depression, anxiety, addiction and withdrawing from our support network. Again, it is important to listen to this type of pain and know when to seek the support of your social network or the guidance of a therapist.

Spiritual pain is the feeling of alienation from our belief system, a lack of peace and fulfillment, an absence of the sacred or holy, which transcends physical and emotional pain. When we experience this type of pain, we sometimes need support from a spiritual mentor.

Pain, any one of these, is the most common reason people seek help from physicians and therapists. Pain and suffering can significantly interfere with our quality of life and sometimes how long we live. A supportive social network, a sense of control and sometimes medication can empower you to manage pain so it does not turn in to suffering.

Suffering happens when our pain is prolonged and we do not seek the help we need in healing. Suffering is the meaning we attach to our pain - physical, emotional or spiritual. Physical pain, emotional unease and spiritual emptiness all intensify pain.

A step toward healing from suffering happens when we identify and change our thinking and beliefs about our pain. A treatment plan might include mindfulness, meditation and relaxation, biofeedback, positive self-talk and exercise. Finding the appropriate help for the kind of pain you are experiencing is essential to your healing. Just because you try something and it doesn’t ease your pain, it is imperative not to give up. You can choose to dwell on your physical, emotional or spiritual pain, which will lead to suffering, or you can choose managing and possibly healing your pain.

Living is not the absence of pain, but the ability to keep from suffering.