Pain & Suffering

aka “What happens when you meditate in a tree in Costa Rica”

I’ve been exploring the ideas of suffering these last few weeks. Through reading the yoga sutras and re-reading the Power of Now, I’ve been trying on another perspective on the whole suffering thing.

Pain is inevitable. Both physical and emotional pain is going to happen to us, as long as we all shall live. That’s life. And yes, pain is painful. However, whether we suffer is up to us. We create our suffering by thinking, wishing, and resisting our current reality.

Yes, breaking our leg sucks. Or being broken up with sucks. They are painful and the sensations we feel from them are real, and they hurt. That is experiencing pain. Then, when we add in our judgment on what happened, what is happening, and how we feel, our pain becomes more than pain – it becomes suffering. When we can’t stop thinking about how much we wish we weren’t sick right now, that we want to be experiencing a different reality from the one that we are- this is where we suffer most.

Most suffering comes out of the agony we create over our current reality not matching our wished-for reality. It isn’t from the sensations we feel at the moment, but the ones that arise from our thoughts and judgments about those sensations/what they mean.

We have to experience pain. We might as well face that one. But the idea that we can reduce our suffering – that has me intrigued. Noticing thoughts come up in our mind is a part of being mindful, and in the present moment. Letting those thoughts create suffering for us is optional.

We can do this with our emotions too. I don’t know about you but I know I’ve had many more painful thoughts about my emotions than I have pure sensations from the emotion itself. When we stop struggling, accept it, and feel it – it is a relief. Even Especially when it’s a “bad” emotion. The opposite – avoidance, judgment, fear, minimizing, projecting, etc etc etc – is suffering.

Noticing them doesn’t mean suffering. It’s in noticing (becoming the awareness behind the emotions/sensations/thoughts) that we get the space needed to detach ourselves from them. We can experience pain and yet not suffer from it. When we notice sensations and thoughts for what they are (sensations and thoughts) we can unidentify with them, let them be, and stop any further suffering that would be created by attaching to them.

This is quite liberating when you think of it. Hard as fuck, but liberating. If we have the power to stop suffering, no matter what is happening in our current reality, without having to change our current reality – that is truly relieving. 

So, back to meditating in a tree in Costa Rica. From pure bliss to pure pain, in a matter of moments.

This is a bullet ant. They have the worst sting of any insect on the planet. Apparently they can be found in trees. It got me three times. And for the next 14 hours I was in intense pain. Thankfully I had an ice pack, but every time it wasn’t frozen, I was in bawl-my-eyes out pain. Even after the 14 hours, it went on hurting for another ten. They aren’t kidding when they say that a bullet ant sting lasts 24 hours I guess.

I’ve only ever once been stung by anything in my life, and that was just last summer when I stepped on a bee walking barefoot (apparently my embrace nature ways have a downside :P). 

This was NINE hours after getting stung!

I was in a lot of pain. And yes, there was some suffering. But I tried to notice how I was creating that part. I had worried thoughts about whether I would need medical help, if whatever got me (I didn’t know for sure at the time) was poisonous and would have other effects on me, and a bunch of other related worries. This created much suffering, now it wasn’t just about the pain and feeling those sensations – it was dissecting what they meant, worrying about the future, lamenting the past (that it happened), and very much wanting to change my current reality. All of these thoughts didn’t help the pain, they only made it worse. I’m proud to say that for the most part I could detach from them and see what I was doing, and although I didn’t reduce my suffering completely, I was able to stay calm and strong while dealing with my present moment. Alone, in a foreign country, I might add. I’m not going to lie, I feel super tough now (that’s just my ego talking 😉 ).


Do you know your suffering triggers? Where you are more likely to reject the present pain and create suffering from this rejection of reality? Mine are plentiful; a big one is certainly around sickness, yet I even notice how I create suffering with smaller things – like while driving (in the form of road rage).

I encourage you all to notice how and when you create suffering for yourself. In the small things and the big things.

Is some of your suffering tied up in an identity you have about yourself that you wish you didn’t (ex. I’m depressed, I’m anxious, I can’t …, I’m not …,etc). Perhaps most of the suffering you actually experience from those are the thoughts and judgments you have about their existence. How would your suffering change or diminish if you could whole-heartedly accept yourself for whatever you are, in the moment?

It is funny when you think of this broken down. Say for example you are in emotional and sensational pain because you are experiencing anxiety. If, say, you are at the top of the CN tower outside taking a stroll, there isn’t much judgement there. And consequently, no additional suffering (there was some of course – I was certainly having the thoughts of preferring to be back inside). Now imagine you are having those same feelings, but in a grocery store. How much more suffering are you going to experience? Will you now be suffering not only from the anxiety, but also from your judgments and thoughts about how wrong it is that you feel that way? You might even be beating yourself up for not being strong enough to deal with regular life. And because of this additional suffering, you will probably go on to suffer much longer than the actual anxiety feelings last. You will keep suffering because you will keep having those thoughts about yourself. The shakiness is gone, but your suffering is still going strong.

How different could our experience be if we could accept our current realities, and stop adding suffering to our pain?

(These are concepts I’m still working around in my mind.. or awareness.. or what have you :P, so I am in no way implying any of this is absolutely true, or true for you. What I know is that it’s a concept I want to continue working with, and that I have already had glimpses of less suffering from its implementation.)

Fierce Love <3




6 thoughts on “Pain & Suffering”

  1. “We create our suffering by thinking, wishing and resisting our current reality.”

    I would have to agree. I suffer/have suffered tremendously by denying my reality.

    Denying my reality forms a disconnection between body and mind and while I may not always suffer in the short term it catches up and I suffer a great deal over the long haul.

    Thanks for your post. Lots to consider! 💖💞💕

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