Among the most powerful human desires is to be free of suffering. Any form of distress — whether from our body, mind, relationships or from elsewhere ——is disrupting. Most people respond to suffering in three different ways. Some will seek complete relief from pain and will focus their attention on their suffering, discuss it with all, search for cures and visit one healer after another. Pursuing relief becomes their sole aim of life. As a result, when one symptom heals, the mind starts ruminating about other problems or invents new symptoms. These people are always preoccupied with problems and are unable to evolve.
The second category are those who feel hopeless and think they can’t do anything to change their suffering, They, therefore, passively accept their pain. They think they live in a restricted world and are resigned to accepting negative emotions about their own self and of people around them. As a result, most suffer from depression and other psychological disorders.
Then there are people who have a masochistic way of dealing with sufferings. They embrace pain to show their moral superiority and derive self-esteem by acting as martyrs. Such people either refuse to take healing or create situations where therapeutic attempts fail miserably.
All the three patterns increase our pain because our attention is focussed only on suffering. Our mind remains preoccupied with negativity. This approach increases our problems rather than leading us towards resolution. Instead, we need to question our perspective and develop a new one.
How one perceives suffering determines its intensity and our consequent healing response. Life histories of everyone including sages, prophets and reincarnations of God contain traumatic experiences.
Let’s learn lessons from this. First, it is important to understand that some suffering is an inevitable part of life. No matter what we do or don’t do, some traumatic experience will happen to us and we can never be immune to them. Whenever we are in agony, we search for miraculous cures. Often the healing that reality offers to us falls short of a miracle. This increases our suffering. One should, therefore, stop daydreaming about a pain-free existence and be realistic.
And if we have to encounter agony, let’s face and overcome it. Change perspectives, build resilience and develop coping skills, undergo therapeutic measures. You can follow spiritual practices and take a stand.
If we allow ourselves to be defined by this pain by resigning passively to it, or fighting fixatedly, we will lose the battle because we will begin to regard the pain as our central experience. Suffering is merely a part of our experiences, and doesn’t constitute our core Self. If we identify too closely with suffering, we get cut off from the Self and live a false existence.
During his last days, Ramakrishna Paramhansa was diagnosed with throat cancer and found it hard to eat and drink. His disciples told him to ask God to relieve his pain. He replied, “I don’t need to depend on this body ; I can eat through your bodies because I’m connected to you.”
The best antidote for pain and suffering is to develop a higher perspective. An outlook that enables us to focus our attention beyond the trivial limits of our body, mental identifications, egocentric goals, intense emotions and intimate relationships widens the self. When the ego-self transcends these boundaries, pain recedes.
——– Pulkit Sharma (clinical psychologist)