Accepting Pain Cultivates Joy
This is another article in a series of articles about finding joy. In our work with mindfulness we delineate between pain and suffering. Pain is what you experience because of a situation. We have no control over it. We can’t change it. Suffering is the part we have some control over. Suffering is what we experience through the narrative that we replay in our mind.
Suffering is what we experience when we wish something weren’t so. Suffering is wanting it to be different but not being able to change anything. For instance, your dog is ill. That situation is your pain. Let’s put it at a number five on the scale of distress between 1-10, 10 being the worst. Your worry about this situation comes up in your thoughts. You wake up worrying about your pet. You leave the house for work worrying about your pet. You worry about it all day at work and rush home to see if your pet is okay. You think about the worst possible scenarios. Your thoughts about the situation add to your pain. This added component is now suffering and suffering we have some control over. We have control over our thoughts and narratives which means we can control how much we suffer over a situation that is causing us pain.
The Dalai Lama and Bishop Tutu offer wisdom in the area of suffering in their book, The Book of Joy. Their words take our suffering to the next level. The Dalai Lama references a quote which is a translation of Shantideva’s famous questions, “Why be unhappy about something if it can be remedied? And what is the use of being unhappy if it cannot be remedied?” The bottom line of acceptance of what is will be a guiding light for finding our way through difficult situations and maybe even helping us find some joy through the process. Accepting reality is the opposite of resignation and defeat. “The acceptance of reality is the only place from which change can begin.” (Lama, 2016)
When we move into acceptance of what is, it allows us to move into the possibility of the fullness of joy. We aren’t spending energy wishing things were different or kicking and screaming that this just shouldn’t be so. We are turning towards life as it is, as opposed to the expectation of what we think it should be. That gesture allows us to accept the fire we must walk through at that moment. We stop struggling with the difficulties and work on how to best walk our way through the difficulties.
This might seem like a lofty goal and something unreachable if you are experiencing a painful situation right now. Or it might seem unreasonable to think you could just put down the sword and stop fighting what is. But if you can live through the situation with less suffering and be more effective in getting through it, it may be worth considering. If this is something you might want to strive for, one tool you might start with would be to begin being mindful of the thoughts you are thinking and how you get carried away in a negative narrative in your mind. Once you recognize your thoughts and notice when you are back in your narrative (which happens over and over again), you can bring yourself back to this moment, find something that you indeed are grateful for, and spend the moment in acceptance right here, right now. Through that process and practice, you may find, indeed, that you can experience moments of relief and even gratitude or joy as you walk the fire of pain.
Lama, D. a. (2016). The book of joy. New York: Avery Publishing.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Licensed Independent Clinical Social Worker
Licensed Independent Mental Health Practitioner
- Janie Pfeifer Watson, LICSW, is the founder and director of Wholeness Healing Center, a mental health practice in Grand Island, Nebraska with remote sites in Broken Bow and Kearney. Her expertise encompasses a broad range of areas, including depression, anxiety, attachment and bonding, coaching, couples work, mindfulness, trauma, and grief. She views therapy as an opportunity to learn more about yourself as you step more into being your authentic self. From her perspective this is part of the spiritual journey; on this journey, she serves as a mirror for her clients as they get to know themselves—and, ultimately, to love themselves.
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