Pain or harm is inescapable in life. Whether it’s physical or emotional or financial, everyone experiences pain/harm with some regularity.
The question is whether the experience of the pain/harm leads to suffering. For most people, the answer is without question, yes, because the ego-mind reacts to pain/harm through the emotions, judgments, cravings, attachments that are your learned experience. Pain is real; suffering is a product of the ego-mind.
So for example, when you are sick or have an accident, what causes you suffering is not what you are experiencing at that moment, it is the fear of what will develop in the future … will you die, will you be incapacitated. will you lose your job, etc. It is the “what if’s” that the ego-mind throws at us when we experience pain/harm that causes the fear and anxiety that often overwhelms us.
The same is true for any other type of loss or harm. Here’s another example. Let’s say your spouse/significant other leaves you. For many if not most people that is a painful experience, not a welcomed one. But what turns the pain into suffering are the emotions/self-criticism that we lay on the pain. Whether the emotion is anger at the other or whether it brings up deep feelings of personal unworthiness and insecurity, it is these emotions of the ego-mind that cause us suffering and make it almost impossible to deal with the event in a rational way that is in our best interest.
It is of the utmost importance that you come to realize the difference between pain/harm and suffering, and that suffering is all a function of how you, your ego-mind, responds to the experience. With that firm awareness in hand, it can provide you with the will power to say “no” to your ego-mind and instead go deep within yourself to seek guidance from your heart, your true Buddha self.
As I’ve often written, the power of the ego-mind is beyond our ken; never underestimate it. The only antidote to this power, and so the only hope we have of living our lives free of it’s control, is belief in the teachings of the Buddha and the unshakeable awareness that, as the Buddha said when he first turned the wheel of the dharma, the cause of our suffering is craving, it is the feelings and perceptions of the ego-mind.
Mind, even if you have that firm awareness, it is still a challenge to prevent the ego-mind from intervening because all too often we are not fully present in the moment, and if we aren’t, that means we are in our mind. Once we get off the cushion, we are easily distracted from our meditative state.
The goal is to be present every moment of the day, being mindful, observing ourselves. As the ancient Chinese poem says, “When faith and mind are not separate, and not separate are mind and faith, this is beyond all words, all thought, for here there is no yesterday, no tomorrow, no today, there is only the present moment; that is the only reality, all else is thought.”