I am sometimes asked about the difference between pain and suffering. Pain is sensation in the body at a particular time. Suffering is spread over time and must be accompanied by some story about the pain. The story can of course have infinite strands and arrangements—who caused the pain, why, when, how, the metaphysics of it—but the particulars of the story only serve as a distraction and as resistance to the pain itself.
Most people aren’t willing to give up their investment in mental and emotional suffering. In the willingness to stop the suffering, which means to stop the story about the pain, the pain can be experienced just as it is. What has been previously thought of as unbearable can be experienced with an open mind because the mind is no longer closed around some idea about the experience. The mind is open. It has dropped all definitions. When pain is met with an open mind, then pain, like every phenomenon, reveals the truth at its core.
Suffering is the mental, emotional, and physical contraction around pain, the history, justification, blame, sentimentalizing, and dramatization of the pain. In the willingness to simply and directly experience any kind of pain, just for an instant, you will discover that the essence of pain is intelligence, clarity, joy, peace—the same essence as bliss! The truth of yourself is revealed even in the midst of pain, and pain is revealed to be another vehicle for truth. In following the story of the pain, this vehicle is overlooked, and the potential gift of pain is wasted.
Let me emphasize that wishing to alleviate pain is natural and appropriate. Medications, the embrace of a loved one, communion with nature, the rhapsody of music and art, are all used to alleviate pain. None of these is a problem. The problem is that the choice of meeting the pain, of stopping the resistance to pain, goes unrecognized. That you have the freedom to stop and intimately face what is tormenting you, at any level, is generally unknown. The lack of recognition for such a choice keeps you bound as the victim of some tormentor. The surprise that awaits this choice is the discovery of what is alive and waiting in the heart of everything—spacious consciousness, love, that which heals all, even death.
Who can say what pain will come into your life? Certainly all of us have experienced pain of one kind or another. If you have had the experience of surrendering in the moment that pain arises, of actually opening your mind to pain, whether it is physical, emotional, personal, or worldly, then you have discovered a secret wisdom. In this discovery you are no longer preoccupied with personal pain, and then there is one less whining, screaming, crying, “What about me?” What a relief! This “one less” is huge, because when the story of personal pain no longer has prominence, you can experience pain you had no idea existed—your neighbor’s pain, your parents’ pain, your children’s pain, the pain of the universe—and in that, you are not making war with what is painful, or hiding from potential future pain. You are living a life open to meet what is here. Then pain, as any experience, is to be bowed to as none other than truth itself.