Pain and Suffering

The greatest miracle is to be alive. We can put an end to our suffering just by realizing that our suffering is not worth suffering for!” – Thich Nhat Hanh

This weekend my son wanted to be like his sister and asked me “Can I have a pony?” Which is his shorthand for a ponytail, but before I’d even touched his hair to make a teeny-tiny ponytail, he said, “I’m going to say ‘Ow’”!

That little snippet of interaction so clearly illustrated the idea of pain versus suffering. I was fascinated by this idea when I first read about it in Temple Grandin’s book Animals in Translation. In the book, she discusses her work as an animal scientist from her unique perspective as an autistic person. Her fascinating work brings together so many different perspectives.

Dr. Grandin talks about all the tests and observations they’ve done to study whether animals experience pain. Because animals, especially prey animals, mask pain so that they don’t stand out in the flock, in the case of sheep, it’s sometimes hard to observe whether they are in pain.

But then she moves on to talk about suffering. Looking at humans who have chronic pain, she cites studies that show that chronic pain patients have a great deal of pre-frontal lobe activity which suggests something other than pain which is a lower-down brain function. In cases where a patient with intense pain had a leucotomy, which disconnected the frontal lobes and the rest of the brain, the patient still had pain but didn’t care about it.

Pain and suffering are two different things. Whereas I can address pain with a bandaid, ice or other treatment, taking on suffering for me is a spiritual practice. It is best treated by bringing light and breath to it and then having faith that it will not only move on through but also usually inform some enlightenment. As the great Buddhist teacher Thich Nhat Hanh says in the quote for this post, “The greatest miracle is to be alive. We can put an end to our suffering just by realizing that our suffering is not worth suffering for!

The most prominent of this for me was my divorce a dozen years ago. After my marriage fell apart, it was so easy to stay stuck in the storyline of my husband’s infidelities that I mucked around for a couple of years without owning my part of the story and acknowledging that I wanted out. Until I found meditation and faith as a tool to empty those pockets of stale dead air, I suffered from lack of perspective and inability to listen to the larger chorus of the Universe inviting me out of the pain and onward.

When I started to make the pony for my son, he said, “Ow” and decided he didn’t really want it. I guess he know it wasn’t worth suffering for.  

(featured photo from Pexels)

33 thoughts on “Pain and Suffering

    1. Ha, ha! I love this comment, Ally. You’re right – it is cute! They have “pony parties” at school and it’s so cute at pickup to see all these little people with ponies sticking out all over. It sure is better when they ask for that kind of pony and not the one that eats hay and poops! 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  1. Lovely quote! I really like how in this meditation you included anecdotes that are both lighthearted (your son’s pony) and deeper (your crummy ex) – there is something about the contrast and how this applies to all levels that just makes it resonate well and be more thought-provoking. Thank you for this!

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  2. You’ve indeed touched upon a vital point for any person’s recovery!

    Releasing the suffering and the need to suffer is an important step, but too many people hold onto their suffering as a new part of their identity. Being a martyr gets a person a lot more attention than not being one, and is the single most difficult thing to let go of!

    Being able to move from Martyr to looking at what WE did in a situation is scary for we fear being judged and not feeling worthy. A martyr derives a lot of their self-worth from having suffered at the hands of another person.

    Who are we without our suffering? Are we still worthy of love? These are scary questions to look into!

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    1. I love this additional perspective, Tamara! Yes, we hold on to it as a matter of identity. Don’t we also do it as a way to bear witness to the injury so that perhaps the other person will see the suffering and apologize? Even if they never will? And then the person who is making us suffer — becomes us! Wow, such an amazing point of healing. Thank you for this gift.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Right?! Bearing witness to the pain. That’s what we hope to do, but the reality unfortunately with many abusers who are also narcissistic is they absolve themselves of any blame! 😕😕

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  3. Interesting post and I had to think about my journey. In my opinion I have only had pain and not suffering physically. In going through dialysis, cancer etc I went through the pain but I have never dwelt on it so I believe I never suffered. But that was physical, I never emotionally clung to the pain or dwelled on it. I moved past each episode even though I could not forget them. Suffering for me is the helplessness when I am unable to help others I love. Chronically a fixer, it is suffering not able to fix their problems.

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    1. I’m so grateful that you shared these experiences, David. That you could go through cancer and dialysis without suffering is fantastic, although I imagine that there were many painful times.

      But I am so totally with you about the suffering of others. I’m a fixer too and it is so hard. Such an interesting perspective to consider.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Well said, it is, indeed! You’re also unveiling new meaning in one of my favorite Einstein quotes “We cannot solve our problems with the same thinking we used when we created them.” In the context of change, I believe it now means that we first need the wisdom to understand that a new way of thinking is required, the skill to come up with the new solutions, and the fortitude and persistence to implement them. With this quadruple “whammy” it seems like a wonder that we are able to change at all? 🙂

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      2. Oh, that’s a wonderful Einstein quote. He was so brilliant – about life and not just physics!

        I love how you’ve applied it here. You’re right, it takes a lot of awareness and wisdom. Probably why we often are forced into change instead of going it gracefully! But having thought through it, I think we have more of a chance!

        Love your response and thinking on this!


  4. What a lovely and insightful post, Wynne. Thank you for sharing Temple Grandin’s work. She truly is an inspiration.

    And you’re spot on about highlighting the difference between pain and suffering. I appreciated hearing your thought process in how you overcame your suffering. An inspiration thought for the rest of this week!

    Liked by 1 person

  5. I suspect many of us who have been through a divorce as a result of our partner’s infidelity – myself included – have come to the realization that they, too, wanted out. Even before any vows were broken.

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  6. Life lessons from pony tails! Will our kids every stop teaching and enlightening us?
    “the patient still had pain but didn’t care about it.”–wow! Also, I’ve seen the Temple Grandin movie. It was quite good. Nice to know she has a Ph.D. now. Sounds like an interesting book I’ll need to add to my TBR.

    Liked by 1 person

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