Several thousand years ago the Buddha said: “Pain is inevitable; suffering is optional.” Pain has been a part of the human condition since the beginning of time. We endure love and loss, and we experience the pain that comes with that. Along with joy, pain is a part of being human.
Suffering though, the Buddha implied, is something else. It’s not necessarily a part of life. While pain will surely come to us sometime, suffering is something that we can modify. It’s about our response to the events of life, and since it is something that stems from within us, we can have some power.
Often though, we feel very disempowered and can’t see the way out of our problem. That feels crushing. Whatever we may have tried to resolve our problem doesn’t work and depression takes over, leaving us feeling tired and helpless, and we suffer.
Yet psychologically, there is a lot of hope in this moment. The famous thinker and existential therapist Irvin Yalom said: “The human being has an inbuilt propensity toward self-realization. The task is to remove obstacles toward this growth.”
From his perspective, if we can find a way around those obstacles, we can suffer less.
How we do this:
It begins with understanding your core framework in life — how you operate in the world. We each have vulnerabilities (often out of consciousness) and some of these can be big triggers for suffering.
When you understand your patterns, you can order your experience and that helps you understand yourself deeply. You may come to see, for instance, why you react so strongly to experiences of rejection.
With that understanding comes the first key to suffering less. With your developing awareness, you begin to have more ability to observe yourself and choose how you respond to what comes at you in life. You are less controlled by old painful stories, and sit instead in a position of choosing. You begin to have options. You begin to have power. Gradually you begin to feel less at the mercy of the tides of life.