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Suffering is Optional

By Dianne Witte

Now, I didn’t say, suffering doesn’t exist. All we need to do is look around to see that clearly, it does. But, according to Buddha and his Four Noble Truths, suffering is optional. So, if you’re game, let’s take a closer look.

There are a number of types of suffering. They include physical, psychological and emotional and range from what some would call minor irritations to major life and death kinds of suffering. Do you suppose there is one fix for all these kinds of suffering? Buddha says yes, because all suffering originates with desire. Eliminate desire and you eliminate suffering. Simple, right? I know you’re thinking, yeah, right. But, Buddha points to the Noble 8 Fold Path as a way out of suffering. I’m not going down the “path” right now. I simply want to examine the idea of desires as creating suffering and my own experience dealing with it.

Now, we know that we all have desires. In fact, I’ve recently realized that we are created to have desires in order to motivate us or we would just curl up and die, this is such a difficult world. For instance, we are born with a desire to live, and a desire to improve and be happy. After birth, we desire to eat, and be nurtured. Later we desire to walk, then talk and learn and a myriad more desires. As we age, depending on our cultural upbringing we are programmed to desire beautiful clothing, bling, tech toys, big homes, friends and lovers and the list goes on. Perhaps our suffering or discontent is in direct proportion to the number of our desires.

But, only certain desires get to the point where they cause us to suffer. Why is that? Well, it probably relates to the need for balance in our lives. Perhaps, if one aspect of our lives gets out of balance, we suffer, until we put it back into balance.

Take for example, a desire to be pain free. Probably unrealistic, since pain is a gift from our bodies to indicate something is wrong. It is designed to grab our attention. However, sometimes that warning system gets out of balance and begins to “rule” our consciousness too.

A number of years back, I had issues with sciatica. I doctored around and took pain relievers and moaned and groaned when taking the stairs or walking. One day, I came across the idea to really experience the pain, instead of trying to avoid it. I imagined going inside my legs and hip and really tried to pinpoint exactly where the pain was really the worst. Then, when I found it, at the cellular level, I talked to it. I told it I was unhappy with all the pain it was causing. I asked it why it was hurting and what I could do to help. This didn’t happen all in one sitting, but as I did this exercise, I came to realize that I had been pushing my body beyond its physical limits and I needed to change my habits and expectations. I learned to listen to my body. I learned to respect it and understand its limitations. The desire to be pain free was eventually replaced by a new understanding.

I don’t mean to make this simplistic. This is not a onetime fix. I compare it to exercise. To get from wimpy to “ripped” you first have to make a commitment. To get from suffering to contentment, you have to make a commitment. Then decide on a way to follow through. Do one thing. When you find you can do that with ease, do another and another. If you think you fail, you haven’t, unless you don’t persist. Give yourself an ‘atta boy/girl’ for trying, pick yourself up and go again. Finally, maybe you won’t be “ripped,” but you’ll have a body that is healthy and strong.

In the same way, with whatever cause of your suffering, make a commitment to stop. Then make a plan to deal with it. First, you might want to journal about it. Ask yourself some uncomfortable questions, like, what is the payoff for this suffering? There must be some reason why you are doing it. What desire is really at its base? What changes would eliminate the suffering? Are you willing to do the change or continue suffering? Be brutally frank with yourself.

Meantime, you might want to explore some ways to cope. Be prepared with alternatives, so when a “pity party” comes around, you have a plan to overcome the suffering. Perhaps a deep breathing exercise that takes your mind off what you’re experiencing, like women do in childbirth. You get the added bonus of oxygenating your brain so it can think more clearly. Or, you go for a walk, dance to your happy music, volunteer to help someone or take up a hobby.

Another tactic might be helpful is to develop an affirmation or mantra to break the pattern of negative thought. Remember, a fundamental cosmic law is that energy follows thought. In the mental dimension, like attracts like. Like the Bible says, “as a man thinketh, so is he.” Find an affirmation that can become habitual that suits your situation. Make it one you can believe and say it until you experience it.

Persist, persist, persist. Saying “I tried that” is not an option. Try again. Try something different. Do not resign yourself to suffering. Suffering is optional.

P.S. In the process of writing this article, I’ve come to the realization that I’ve adopted many aspects of the Noble 8 Fold Path…..”the  way of practice leading to the cessation of suffering……right understanding, right attitude, right speech, right action, right livelihood, right effort, right mindfulness and right concentration.” Can you identify which ones I’ve touched on in this article?

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