Pain is mandatory, suffering is optional

“Pain is mandatory, suffering is optional.” ~ Dalai Lama

“Pain is mandatory suffering is optional” is often quoted, and it sounds reasonable, but how is that so? How is it lived? Pain, like physical bodily pain, is part of life. Emotional suffering, for psychological “reasons” or in addition to physical pain, is a practice, a habit that can be changed.

These are the mechanics of how pain is mandatory suffering is optional.

Suffering is something done habitually, something that has been handed-down, inherited through the ignorance of simply not knowing anything else to do. It had become so deeply ingrained as to become beliefs, or worse, part of your identity (also a belief). You know it’s gone this far when you hear things like “I am just a sad person.”

The good news is that this same mechanism that can perpetuate bad feelings, suffering, and related beliefs, can be used with the same success to create the habit of non-suffering, or even the habit of joy, and related beneficial beliefs.

What we do habitually becomes what we believe. What we believe becomes what we do habitually. Beliefs change all the time, usually unconsciously. When you take conscious control of your beliefs and habits, you take conscious control of your life. You can have whatever you want in life, including happiness, because inherently, you are freedom. All you have to do is choose, and then immerse yourself in what you do want—from the things you read and listen to, to the people you spend time with, and the things you do. Practice, live, breathe what you want.

Most importantly, and if you did nothing else, notice and feel emotional pain as a red flag to pay attention! Notice it, decide you don’t want the pain, ask your self what you do want, and feel inside for it, because as true as you can always find pain to suffer on, you can always find joy, peace, happiness, love, connection—whatever you want—to “suffer” on. After all, suffering is really just re-feeling something over and over, often building the intensity.

“Use suffering for the only thing it is good for–to point you toward joy.” –C. Teevens

Practicing Alchemy gives you the feeling you want that will end painful suffering instantly. The question is, have you had enough? Do you really want change… Do you really want happiness, peace, joy? But don’t believe me that it’s possible. Practice it yourself to see, feel, and know.

Once you begin to end suffering and practice more more habitually in your life, it is similar to almost being born again… simple things in life come to life as if you had never seen them before. The brightness, the sharpness of the sheer existence and mystery of life raises your awe and appreciation, and your enjoyment. It’s like a dull fog has lifted and life becomes the joyous adventure it was meant to be. You may begin to wonder, as I have, just how good life can get as you continually meet the expansiveness with your own. Become an adventurer, question all you think you knew and life will come alive!

Get more insight and guidance on how pain is mandatory and suffering optional
in the book
The Alchemy of Love and Joy.

Comments 6

  1. I had an eye-opening experience recently that I ‘create’ stressful situations for myself myself! This is due to the family background where dependency from alcohol affected my development. And here am I a grown-up woman causing pain to myself without interference of outsiders! (Well, there were issues with forgiveness obviously..) The suffering became so unbearable that the question – asked by the outsider – WHY? WHY AM I DOING THIS TO MYSELF? needed to be answered without further delay. Guess, what was the answer? There is no reason at all. Not only suffering, the pain is optional, the hurt, the blame, the guilt is optional. So I decide to acquire a new set of habits that will result in ‘happiness’, ‘love’ and ‘joy’. Thank you for this amazing comment on Dalai Lama’s words.

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      Hi Alex, the realization that you alone are the cause is a wonderful realization to have! You had a very similar experience to me, which I write about in Alchemy. But with me, it was merely the realization that nobody and no thing “caused” my pain (which I believed they did). Realizing that I was doing it, I simply stopped. The question “why” never arose, as that was enough. In facilitating Alchemy, I guide people to be not interested in the question “why” because usually we will “find” or concoct a reason, and then we are in trouble. Consider “why” a four-letter word : ) because the “whys” are where the suffering lies. Thank-you for reading and sharing.

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  2. I have found my suffering comes from resisting my pain. The more I resist the more I suffer. The more energy I invest in denial of my experience the more energy invested in its existence. You can’t deny something unless you already believe it exists. So surrender to the pain and let it wash over you. Let it trickle at first. You might as well… it’s there anyway. Then when you realize, “Hey! I’m still here!”, allow more to flow over you. Demand more. And more. If it isn’t there it won’t come. I find as I go into the pain, as I immerse myself (and I’m not talking about some masochistic self-indulgence) the pain loses it’s definition and intensity as do I to some extent. I become redefined. My context widens and softens and the pain is spread out over a wider area and loses its intensity and piercing, agonizing quality, and becomes a warm all encompassing experience of acceptance and forgiveness. It’s as if the pain has transformed and the intense pressure caused by resistance has now been deflated, dissipated, drained. Whew! That’s what pain is for. All it wants is your acknowledgement. It is just something tugging at you pantleg (like a lonely,needy, neglected child) asking to picked up and hugged and loved. Acknowledge your pain and it will transform both itself and you.

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      Hi Fred,

      Yes, there is a fine line between “allowing” and “indulging” in suffering. Indulging would be believing it to be true, “going into” the pain, and keeping your attention on it. That attention may be given by thinking “I don’t want pain,” although your attention is still on pain, and that is resisting.)

      The reason we suffer is because we give ourselves a reason to suffer. You can try to wait it out, to let some new attention distraction wash it away (only to trigger and resurface again in an apparent pattern), or we can directly face our “reason” to suffer, our attachment, the thing we think we must have, or must not have, realize that we do not need any of that, that everything we could ever want is right here, right now – and put an end to it once and for all.

      Pain is not pointless, it is not independent, nor sentient; it is not an entity that needs something from you; you are not trapped by it. This you point out by saying that you can simply notice it, and just that act reveals we are separate from it, and that it has no power. It comes and goes, but in who’s eternal presence?

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