Many of us feel that we suffer due to the pains in life. These pains may be physical, mental or spiritual. They could be due to fears of the future, attachment to pains in the past or desire for things to be different than they are in the present.
Pain in life is inevitable. We will be hurt mentally, physically and emotionally. That is a fact of life. To attempt to avoid pain is futile and will keep us from living life. A few scratches and bruises to our ego, our heart or our mind mean that we are living.
Is suffering from these pains necessary?
Suffering on the other hand is something that we can control and does not need to be a part of our life. Suffering is attachment to outcomes and expectations.
Outcomes are related to the situations in the past where we don’t like what happened and we keep reminding ourselves of that fact. It’s that missed touchdown attempt that caused the team to lose the game in high school and we feel kept us from a professional football career (i.e. the uncle in the movie Napoleon Dynamite). Or it’s the speech that we blew and felt embarrassed by our failure and so we avoid speaking in public.
Expectations are related to situations that we are in right now or foresee in the future. We expect them to go a certain way and ruminate on all of the potential reasons that things could go wrong. It’s that fear of the upcoming presentation and the thoughts of what could go wrong. Or it’s the fear that we won’t be able to live up to someone’s expectations (or our own) and so we don’t want to attempt going for something we want.
If we let go of attachment to outcomes and expectations, we also let go of suffering. We let the pain of life happen (because it will) and then we let it go and continue on.
That doesn’t mean that we ignore it or act like the pain didn’t happen. We acknowledge it and learn from it, but we don’t limit ourselves because of it.
Example from my own life
I myself have blamed many of the negative situations in my life on the pain that life brings. It was not the pain, but rather my choice to suffer from them that caused the situations.
In my younger days, I had a girlfriend that I felt deeply in love with. She cheated on me in a “in your face”, deliberate and nonchalant manner. The pain caused by that was immense. However, even worse was all of the years that I carried that pain around and brought it into other relationships. As a result, I was possessive and non-trusting in relationships to follow and this led to a whole host of other relationship issues. It wasn’t until I let go of that pain that the suffering ended and I felt that I could trust someone.
The monk stuck in the mud
(there are many version of this story but here is my recollection and no matter how it is told, the lesson is the same)
There were two monks walking through the woods one day. They came across a woman in a fancy dress attempting to pass over a muddy patch in the trail without getting her dress dirty. As the monks came across her, the older monk picked her up and carried her across the mud and set her down on the other side. The younger monk looked at him in shock because he knew that monks were forbidden from touching women. As they continued on, the younger monk continued to think about how the older monk had disobeyed their rules.
Finally, after hours had passed, the younger monk became so obsessed with the situation that he burst out angrily, “you were wrong to carry that woman across the mud because you know we are not supposed to touch women.”
The older monk replied calmly, “brother, yes but I let that women go hours ago. You seem to be still carrying her with us”.
The older monk did what he felt was right and let go of the situation afterwards. The younger monk held onto the outcome that he did not agree with and as a result brought suffering upon himself.
How are the pains of life holding you back because you are still carrying something around that you should let go?