“Pain is inevitable, but suffering is optional.”
This anonymous quote is as annoying as it is true. The last thing we want to hear when in the middle of suffering is that it is only and entirely our responsibility! “But, he was horrible to me!” – “But, I just broke my leg!”.
The reality is that the events in our lives are not, in themselves, a cause of suffering, although they can definitely be a cause of pain, be that physical or emotional. Before you shrug this off, I am not talking semantics here, there is a really big difference between pain and suffering. Pain is what the world does to us, suffering is what WE do to ourselves. Suffering is how we react to pain, it is the response we give to the stimulus of pain.
“Between stimulus and response, there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom.” – Viktor Frankl
If we accept that we can only realistically live in the present moment, forever living the NOW, then it follows that we cannot change the current experience; it is what it is, it is happening. What we can change is our response to what is happening, so that we are in a better position to improve our future experience.
It is, of course, much, much easier said than done – by and large, it’s not a “from now on I’ll do that!” type thing. For the majority of us, it requires extended practice to achieve something even approximating reduction in suffering.
This is where, in my experience, Yoga and meditation are very effective. A consistent practice trains us to be more resilient and more accepting of what reality throws at us moment by moment.
According to a parable of the Buddha, we each have eighty-three problems, and for every problem we get rid of another one arises; so for as long as we’re alive we will always have problems.
But the Buddha also highlighted one eighty-fourth problem: we don’t want to have any problems. This is the one problem that Yoga and meditation can really help with.
This does not mean passive acceptance of things as they are, lack of desire for change, not at all; what it does mean is that when we fully embrace the present moment in its unchangeable reality, we are in a much better and stronger position to effect change.
This concept is reflected in the Baghavad Gita, in the Yoga sutras, and in the Buddhist scriptures and it is, in the end, another manifestation of Yoga’s main stated purpose: stopping the fluctuations of the mind.
By slowing down the internal chatter that dissects, judges, evaluates everything through the lens of the self we can find that space between stimulus and response and perhaps make more informed choices on how we respond.