“Use pain like a stone in your path, not a place to camp,” Alan Cohen said, referring to those moments when we decide to get comfortable in the shadow of pain.
We can learn to relate to pain and suffering as we would a stone encountered on our path. We cannot deny its existence and it will likely become an obstacle that annoys us, but the wisest thing to do is to find out how to leave it behind.
The mustard seed: The Buddhist parable that shows us how to take on suffering
“A long time ago, a young woman lost her son. The pain and suffering were so great that she wandered the streets begging for a magical medicine that could restore life to her little one. Some looked at her with pity, others teased her and called her "crazy".
A wise man, seeing his despair, said to him:
- There is only one person in the world who can work the miracle. He lives on the top of the mountain. Go and ask him.
The woman went up the mountain and prayed:
- Oh Buddha, restore my son's life.
Buddha said to him:
- Go back to town and go from door to door. You'll have to bring me a mustard seed from a house where no one died.
The woman's heart recovered hope as she rushed from the mountain to the city. In the first house he said:
- Buddha asked me to take a mustard seed from a house where no one died.
"Many have died in this house," they replied.
So the woman went to the next one but they gave him the same answer. The same happened in the third house, the fourth, the fifth, and so on throughout the city. He couldn't find a single house that hadn't been visited by death.
Then, the woman returned to the mountain.
- Did you bring the mustard seed? - asked Buddha.
- No, and I'm not looking for it anymore. I'm beginning to understand what you wanted to teach me. Blinded by pain, I thought I was the only one who suffered.
- So why did you come back? -
- To ask you to teach me the truth.
To which Buddha replied:
- If you want to know the truth about life and death, you must understand that in the universe there is only one law that is not subject to change: all things change and nothing is permanent ”.
This parable teaches us that pain and suffering are part of life, it makes no sense to try to escape them, but neither does it make sense to prolong them indefinitely by clinging to recurring negative thoughts that do nothing but worsen the suffering.
Why do we get stuck in suffering?
When adversity knocks on our door, it is difficult to recover from the blow. Sometimes we are taken by surprise, other times it is so strong that it makes us lose our psychological points of reference.
Recovery is not easy and everyone needs a shorter or longer period of time. In fact, we don't all have the same pace of recovery, because we don't attach the same emotional meaning to situations and we don't have the same coping resources. However, we need to make sure that we don't get stuck in suffering, we don't have to get so attached to that "stone" until it turns it into the area to camp in.
One of the main reasons we are stuck in suffering is that we refuse to accept what happened. We know that when we leave that suffering behind, we can turn the page. And sometimes we don't want to move on because we think it would mean forgetting the person who is no longer there, or assuming we can't do anything more to remedy a situation in which we don't feel comfortable.
It is a paradoxical mental block, as we don't want to feel bad but we don't want to feel good either, because in our mind it would mean leaving behind a part of life with which we still identify.
In some cases this paradox can be caused by guilt. That is, we fail to forgive ourselves for what we have done or stopped doing, and we punish ourselves through that pain. In this way, suffering becomes a way to atone for guilt.
Unfortunately, we can feel guilty without being fully aware of it, so we allow guilt to become a chronic condition that affects our resilience.
3 ideas you need to accept to overcome pain and suffering
To leave suffering behind it is important to understand that our instincts push us to fight pain. It is usually a protective instinct, but in some cases, especially when it comes to psychological pain, it turns into suffering and becomes counterproductive.
To overcome this emotional block we must assume these three concepts:
1. Denying what happened will not make the problem go away. Keeping yourself in the denial phase, hoping that what happened was just a bad dream, will not solve the problem and much less make you less unhappy, on the contrary, it will only aggravate the suffering. Practicing radical acceptance can help you instead.
2. Turning the page doesn't mean forgetting. Continuing with your life does not mean that you will forget, or that the event or person will be less significant to you, it simply means that you have adapted to the new circumstances and have become a more resilient person. Neither more nor less.
3. Suffering does not eliminate guilt. Suffering does not eliminate guilt and does not ensure forgiveness. What really keeps you going is learning the lesson. And you only learn your lesson when you mature, which means you keep moving forward on your path.
Remember that there is a point where, after the tears and sadness, it is essential to come together and move on, or you run the risk of being trapped in depression.