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The Wisdom to Know the Difference

A number of years ago, a teacher told me “pain is inevitable, suffering is optional”. The lesson was that while we cannot control, avoid, or eliminate the pain that is an inevitable part of life, we can make choices about what we do about that pain. On one side we have the choice to obsess about the pain, avoid the pain, escape from the pain, numb the pain, make attempts to decrease the pain, use substances like food or alcohol to “deal” with the pain, or redirect the pain by blaming others. On the other side we have the choice to feel the pain, stay with the pain, to learn and grow from the pain, and move through the pain.

At first, I could not understand the concept that I added to my emotional pain through my actions or the idea that letting myself feel the pain would actually help me to suffer less. I had no clue that much of my pain was self-created because I hadn’t realize that I had a choice. I truly believed that my suffering was beyond control and there was little I could do about it. I didn’t understand that trying to avoid, eliminate, control, and ignore the pain was the reason I continued to suffer. Even when I realized there was a choice, it was not a magic pill I could take and one day poof I no longer experienced suffering. Every day gives me a new opportunity to practice:

  • experiencing my feeling, not running from them

  • learning life’s lessons, not hiding from them

  • letting go, not holding onto the need to be right

  • living the life I want, not staying stuck in fear

This path is not easy but it is liberating. When we realize we have a choice and commit to practicing with each new opportunity, we inevitably transform our lives into ones of joy and peace one day and one moment at a time.

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