The Buddhist phrase, “Pain is inevitable, suffering is optional,” has set me to thinking. Events will just happen, they are part of “what is”. There will sometimes be pain. The latest understanding is that the brain creates pain from a perception of threat. It is part of our protective mechanism. Suffering comes from our reaction to our pain.
We can choose to be at peace, whatever comes. This takes training and discipline. We can react to untoward events with anger, frustration, sadness, discontent, disconnection, despair, apathy, resignation. Or we can choose the attitude of “whatever happens to me, it is what it is.” This is not always easy. Even with many years of practice, it may not be the automatic reaction to unexpected news.
Cheri Huber has written Suffering is Optional, with exercises for increasing self-awareness so we can interrupt how we create our suffering. “Something happens, and we tense in an effort to keep the same thing from happening again. You’ve probably noticed that doesn’t work. The same thing never happens again…” She notes that the key to diminishing suffering is mindfulness of how we create a state of non-acceptance. And to examine our beliefs and recognize they are not real, they are based on the past.
Turtle shell-limiting beliefs from the past
As bodyworkers, we see this all the time. The tension, the guarding in the neck, shoulders, or back, is to prevent pain. It becomes a contracted shape to prevent something from the past, which isn’t happening now. It reinforces fear of it happening again. The fear becomes a habit of suffering.
Some people show up with their neck contracted into the shoulders. We call this the turtle shell. It pretends there is armor, a place to hide. The structure of the turtle shell upholds the illusion that it is your fault, that you did something wrong, that you don’t deserve goodness and health, and if you hide in a rigid body, you can be safe. This might be one these negative beliefs you have embodied since childhood. Or, perhaps you hold other tensions as body armor. When you come into the present, you no longer need the armor. Because you no longer have the past dragging you back.
Is now the time to end your suffering?
Now is a good time to give yourself love and compassion. Now is a good time to decrease your brain’s perception of threat. This may allow your body to release out of pain. Suffering is optional. You can choose now what you perhaps were too young to choose at one time. You can choose thoughts that release your fears. May you be empowered to release your suffering, and embrace your courage, to be totally present, be fully in your body, empowered to love yourself, exactly the way you are.