Is suffering a choice?
We all have experience with pain. From day one, pain is a big part of our development. We’re born of our mother’s pain, whether in the moment or through recovery after a C-section. ‘Growing-pains’ are a widely accepted part of life too; teething, puberty etc… Pain almost feels like the currency through which we pay for our lives.
What is pain really though? We all seem to know what we’re talking about, but the collective agreement around what pain is, can be a smoke screen for its true nature and purpose.
Physical pain is a signal. I’m sure we can all conceptualise it as such. A nerve fires electrical signals to the brain, that interprets it as something to which we must attend. The urgency of that attendance being contingent on the severity of the signal. But this, we know, varies from person to person.
As we get older, for instance, grazing our knee or cutting a finger doesn’t result in a total melt-down. We aren’t shocked by it to the degree that we can’t function. Whereas when we’re kids, it’s game over! The pain is so overwhelming, we’re thrown into a state of meltdown.
Why is this?
Experience and context tells us that the pain will be temporary. They offer us the parameters within which to accurately judge our pain. We know that these things can happen in the course of daily life and that they are an acceptable risk in the pursuit of whatever goal we might have. But is the actual pain any different? No, our interpretation of it is.
So armed with this knowledge then, can we not apply the same logic to other forms of new pain that arise in our adult life?
Sure we can, it just takes a consciously chosen reframing of the situation. That can feel like an impossibly tall order though, especially when you’re at the hight of your suffering, but it is absolutely possible. As with a lot of things in our life; our response to pain is born largely from our subconscious mind. It having been drip-fed information throughout our lifetime.
What is ‘suffering’ when all said and done, but a consciously or unconsciously chosen perspective on pain that is disempowering? At the very moment that we consider ourselves to be in a state of suffering, that’s when we can choose to reframe it as an empowering situation. It’s also the point at which a lot of folks choose to indulge in it, hoping to illicit sympathy from others.
Lest you think that I’m engaging in any kind of victim-blaming though, I want to really speak to the root cause of a lot of these disempowering interpretations. We want to feel safe by seeking structure in labelling things. We’re also not taught that we can reframe and choose a different message/outcome from our pain.
A lot of the messaging that we’re subject to in our society, whether well-intentioned of not, is disempowering. Moving choice and freedom away from the individual. Whether it’s government sponsored messages about what to eat, how much to drink or indeed: whether it’s even safe to go outside!
So it’s natural for people in pain to externalise the problem and call it ‘suffering’. It’s a way of compartmentalising it and feeling at the mercy of something bigger than ourselves, but that’s no basis from which to grow!
I have been criticised in the past by people, because I put a lot of emphasis in my teaching on financial growth and freedom. the assumption being that I’m just all about the money and that I can’t see any other kind of value in life, but that’s really a cursory appraisal of my work. The reason that I get people to first focus on building a state of financial abundance for themselves is that, ultimately; it opens them up to choice!
The choice to direct their own life and not wait to be told when they’re worthy of something, be it by a government, employer or anyone else!
How can we start the process of reframing our pain for personal growth?
When I was younger (I won’t say how much younger) I read The Power of Now by Eckhart Tolle. One of the guiding forces behind me creating my Beyond Intention Paradigm was an attempt to add structure to the messages in The Power of Now and practical ways in which to implement them in my life.
Everything starts from the present. Thanks to our three-dimensional bodies, we can only be physically in the present, and so it is the only place from which we can create anything. This is why one of the first and most important instructions I give to people is: clear! Really find an effective way to rid themselves of everything that’s currently cluttering up their mind, and just focus on the present moment.
What pain (and the fear of/desire to avoid it) does to us is knock us out of the present. I’m sure you’ve all experienced the moment where you catch yourself down some rabbit hole of thought, projecting an assumed future of misery and pain. I bet, by the time your conscious mind suddenly gains awareness of this, you have no idea how long you’ve been sat there for, thinking about everything that can go wrong.
This is your subconscious attempting to apply some kind of order to the chaos it perceives you to be in the midst of. It doesn’t trust that actually the future is likely to be a mixture of different experiences, but that you do have the power to decide the outcome through your response to it. While you’re sat there, spending time in the future that doesn’t exist though; you’re powerless to do anything in the present.
“As long as I am not in the now, I am powerless.”
Say that to yourself the next time you catch your thoughts wondering off to either a past or future point of pain. Real or imagined.
A lot of people use meditation and breath work to anchor them in the present. I’ve certainly had a lot of success with this. In fact; a lot of medical professionals will get patients in acute pain to focus on their breath. Why? Because it pulls them back into the present and stops their fight or flight responses from exacerbating the situation and heightening the sensation of pain.
I’m sure that this is also why you’re asked, when in hospital or at the Doctors, to rate your pain from 1-10. It’s about bringing your awareness to it in the present and getting your to contextualise it. Of course; this is open to abuse as well, from people who either deliberately over-state their pain. It also can only really work within the parameters of your experience of pain, but still: it brings you back to the present.
The things is, once you are present you have options. Your conscious mind is back in the driving seat and you can make rational decisions. You can also have the wherewithal to accept full responsibility for creating your life in its entirety.
That’s not about blame or guilt though! I can’t stress this enough…
Bringing awareness to something is not necessarily about judgement!
It’s simply about observation in context and reclaiming power through the recognition that – even when you’re running on subconscious programming, you are choosing your life in any given moment.
You absolutely can condition your subconscious to respond in a more expansive way to pain, thus enabling yourself to grow even when not consciously present in a given situation. You need to create a state of coherence in your mind though. Those times when you find yourself projecting a catastrophic future, or reliving past traumas unable to focus on the task in hand – they are examples of your brain in a state of incoherence.
Something I’ve done a lot of work on, and that I offer visitors to my website, is my guided meditation for Heart Coherence. Having consulted with experts in the field and scientists, I created this simple to follow audio guide to help align mind, heart and body. This brings your emotional state back within your control, reduces the physical symptoms of stress (hormones, trapped energy etc…) and empowers you to make clearer choices from a space of neutrality.
Even if you don’t have time for something like that though, the next time you’re in physical or mental pain you can do something as simple as taking a breath. You could even shake your butt (nobody can be stressed or unhappy while they’re shaking their butt). Whatever disrupts the disempowering pattern that you’re playing out and brings your awareness to what you’re doing.
Even by becoming aware of how we respond to pain, disrupts the subconscious patterns and narrative of victimhood that keeps us from growth. It is ultimately through that awareness, anchored in the preens moment that we can understand our pain and how it represents our growth from the old to the new.