Pain Is Inevitable, Suffering Need Not Be

Photo by steenslag

Photo by steenslag

Five years ago, I found myself laid up in bed for a severe backache. The exact diagnosis was unclear and the advice from the medical practitioners (and that available freely online) was very confusing. For the most part, the pain was unbearable. It was hard for me to sleep and for some days I was almost completely immobile.

Besides the physical pain, my emotional turmoil was perceptible. I felt a loss of control – suddenly, all my plans seemed up in the air; I questioned my health regime and wondered where I had gone wrong; my attempts to meditate were rendered futile by the pain, making me doubt the point and effectiveness of my meditation practice; I was restless and vulnerable; I agonised over the lack of a clear diagnosis or the way forward.

As I resisted the reality of the situation, I suffered. The pain was circumstantial, but suffering was largely self-inflicted. As humans, illness, separation, setbacks and loss are our painful companions. We age, lose our loved ones, see a family member struggle – resulting in physical or emotional pain. However, the associated suffering in our heart and mind is paralysing.

Why do we suffer?

We suffer from our painful experiences for three key reasons.

1. Resistance

Our psyche is programmed to seek pleasure and resist pain. That’s our karmic baggage from the past. We then wish to avoid any kind of pain – physical or emotional. Pain makes us sad, frustrated and angry. We feel like a victim of our circumstances and become envious of anyone whose circumstances seem more favourable.

The reality of human experience is that Suffering = Pain X Resistance; the more we resist the reality, the more we suffer.

2. Attachment to self-image

We are attached to an idealised image of our self. Right from childhood, based on our own perception and comments from parents, teachers and friends, we form a mental impression of a perfect self. Over time, we subconsciously want to live up to that. This is the persona we like to present to the world. For example, you may identify yourself with being: smart, successful, a loving partner, a great parent, fun, happy, organised, creative and so on.

In order to preserve this self-image, we resist any situation that challenges it. If I am a fit and healthy life coach, how could I be laid up in bed with a back problem? What if this illness is a reflection of stored emotional stress, and I thought I was at peace? Similarly, loss of job crushes our self-image of being successful and seeing a child struggle hits at our self-image of a happy family.

3. Relationship with time

In our busy and fast-paced life, any setback seems like a distraction from our ‘important’ agenda. Painful experiences take time to heal and we hate the idea of investing so much time in dealing with pain. We resist it. We also believe we have limited time (not just in a day, but in this lifetime) and we want to maximise our happy experiences in that time.

Reframe to reduce suffering

Although not easy to practice, it is possible to suffer less than we usually do. This requires reframing our relationship with our circumstances and connecting with our true self. Here are five leads that might be helpful.

1. Cultivating acceptance

Given the above equation between suffering, pain and resistance, it’s evident that the key approach to minimising suffering is to minimise resistance. Put another way, it is to enhance acceptance. When we accept our painful experiences as an integral part of human life, we don’t suffer as much.

Besides, it helps to remember that deep down we are spiritual beings merely going through a human experience. Whatever we are experiencing is for our highest good and is helping our spiritual self in its greater evolution. In fact, our painful experiences in this lifetime might be the richest opportunities for us to progress on our spiritual journey.

(Read: Loving what is)

2. Letting go of our false self-image

Secondly, we need to let go of our false sense of an ideal self. Instead of constantly seeking perfection, we need to accept and love who we are. It’s not that happier people have a perfect life; it’s just that they are more at peace with their imperfections.

We need to stop judging others and ourselves against commonly popular notions of success and failure, gain and loss, and pleasure and pain. As Rudyard Kipling suggested, we ought to meet with triumph and disaster and treat those two imposters just the same. We don’t take things personally then and are more open to all our experiences. We don’t get attached to our proud moments and not be so averse to the low ones.

(Read: Chasing a crooked shadow)

3. Knowing that this too shall pass

Further, it’s useful to remember that all thoughts, feelings and events are transient. They arise and unless we get attached to them, pass away – even though in painful moments it doesn’t seem so at all. By choosing to give our painful experiences time to heal and not get embroiled in overthinking about them, we reduce the extent of our suffering.

4. Altering our relationship with time

Recognizing the truth about time and space can be liberating. Our usual sense of time is completely misplaced. We measure it in the limited time-space continuum that we can relate to in our physical form.

What if our core self, our spiritual being, is on a journey of a million years, spanning thousands of lifetimes? Eighty years of this lifetime would then be equivalent to merely a few hours in our soul’s journey. Would you be as obsessed about pleasure and as averse to pain in that hour? Would you be as pressured for time and as hurried in your life?

5. Sharing and seeking help

Lastly, sharing our challenges with friends and well-wishers lightens our pain. Seeking help from friends and professionals can be very helpful too. Besides, joining support groups or choosing to offer help to others experiencing pain can be therapeutic.


As I began to accept my reality and let go of my fears and anxiety, a friend recommended an alternate healer. In my new state of openness, I was far more willing to explore his treatment. He turned out to be a miracle worker. I went to him lying down in the backseat of our car and after an hour with him came back sitting up and was well on my path to recovery!

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To learn more about Rajiv's book, 'Discovering Your Sweet Spot', or to place an order online, please click here.

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19 Responses to “Pain Is Inevitable, Suffering Need Not Be”

  1. Smita says:

    What a coincidence….. I was just thinking last night that I haven’t read anything from you for a long time !!! And today in my mail I find this ….. universe sure has its way , loved your article you have so succinctly explained how to handle pain in the moment . Thank you for your beautiful words , take care and get well soon 😊

  2. rajesh says:

    I assume that your articles have a great resemblance to what is taught in vipasana meditation.
    the practical aspects of vipasana is described theoretically explained beautifully.

  3. Sushma says:

    Saw a post from you after so long…… Nice to hear from you and the post is really so true. Wish you a speedy recovery. Get very well very soon…..

  4. Devyani says:

    Such an age old issue but very relevant ! Didn’t Buddha’s journey start with an attempt to avoid pain and suffering ? Personally I would find this as one of my biggest challenges …am petrified of a scenario where I am immobile and in pain for a long period of time .

  5. Jane Grafton says:

    _()_ beautiful, thank you from England! Happy New Year Rajiv

  6. Harish says:

    When we smile at pain we regain! Hope you are recovering fast and great to see you in action again.

  7. SMG says:

    What s beautifully written article !! I love reading all your blogs. In this day and age where we have ego centric people all around us and experience the pain arising from close relationships , this seems to be a good strategy but hard to follow at times.

  8. Ajoy Chawla says:

    Nice one Rajiv! Happy to hear from you after quite a gap. Hope all well:)
    My wife suggested a modification to ur equation
    Suffering = (Pain x Resistance) / Love.
    seems to make sense to me…

  9. Smitha says:

    Thank you Rajiv. Many things you write here resonate with me and where I am now.

  10. Risha says:

    Great article! I would add one more point under acceptance – to not blame circumstances for your pain but to take responsibility and find a way to cure it. Often we blame someone or something and in that we tell ourselves this is beyond my control or I can’t do much about it leading to a prolonged suffering.

  11. Krish says:

    This begs another question:Why is It that it always rains hard on people who deserve the Sun?
    In other words, why do bad things happen to good people?

    • Rajiv Vij says:

      Thanks Krish. Two aspects to this.
      First, unlike the common perception, the law of karma works at the psycho-spiritual level – not necessarily at the physical level. What that means is if you are doing a good deed, you will certainly get the corresponding rewards within – perhaps by a sense of fulfilment or inner happiness. However, you may not necessarily get a reward in the physical domain – material or financial success. That reward depends upon a number of other factors.
      Second, challenging experiences are usually a result of our past karma that we need to resolve in the present. Such experiences merely provide the platform. However, we need to be alert, mindful, reflective, self-aware and take personal responsibility to be effective at it. Else, if we respond with greed or aversion, we would continue to generate new karma in addition to the past baggage we carry. Hope this helps!

  12. Mamatha says:

    Very much contemplative,Rajiv. By the way what kind of alternative healing helped you, would like to know about that.

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