Inquiry: Is suffering truly optional?

‎”Pain is a part of life, but suffering is optional,” said the guest speaker at church a few Sundays ago now, a Zen Buddhist spiritual teacher.

Though I’ve heard it a zillion times, I love this saying. It reminds me that it is not life itself that is painful as much as my demands and assumptions about what happens (or should happen) that really makes me miserable. It’s not what happens but my grasping expectations and demands about how life should be that hurt.

We suffer when we hold on to our wouldas, shouldas, and couldas. We suffer when we grasp tightly to what used to be or what might have been. Our choices make the difference, and this quote says suffering is a choice we can make or not make (whether we choose mindfully or through unconscious habits of thought doesn’t really matter here).

Whatever happens, we can choose to heal. I love to be reminded of that!

But Wait, Isn’t Pain a Form of Suffering?

This morning while washing dishes, a new thought snuck into my mental landscape, however… It wondered, “Isn’t pain itself…well, inherently painful, a form in fact of suffering?” When I am in pain, I am miserable. It hurts, darnit. I am physically suffering! When I am depressed, I am suffering mental/emotional/spiritual pain. Ouchies! So isn’t pain the same as suffering?

But that thought seems to contradict what the quote says. If pain is a form of suffering, the first part of the quote implies that suffering is a part of life, while the second half says suffering is entirely optional, not necessarily a part of life — we do not have to suffer.

Ut oh. I have contradicted the quote I love.

Interestingly, since the first half of the quote says that pain is always a part of life, the quote implies that pain cannot be suffering.

Whoa. Though my theory is now that pain and suffering are one, the quote implies that they are two unrelated things.

Already I’m super curious as to how exactly one can experience pain without suffering, and I have only washed two dishes.

What Does No-Pain Feel Like?

In detaching, in letting go of the grasping that causes pain, does life then stop hurting? Does your bum knee start to feel great again? Does thinking of your dead loved one bring only a smile to your face, without tears and sadness? What would a life without pain (aka suffering) even look like?

That depends on what you think pain is. After pondering my experiences as an energy healer, it is easy to conclude that yes, in fact, pain ONLY arises from attachment, from hanging on to expectations, from demanding that the world be somehow other than it is.

As they say in energy healing, pain is stuck energy. In my experience, I have found you can heal severe pain by eliminating these thought patterns and aberrations in the energy field, allowing Life Force to flow unimpeded once again.

THAT I can totally believe, based on what I’ve seen of pain and its causes in my healing office. Physical pain seems to filter down from other levels of our conscious being, such as fears and doubts that come from or create attachments.

Pain is stuck energy. The important question is now: why is the energy stuck?

In a perfect world, energy, consciousness, and information flow freely as life unfolds. Acorns become magnificent oak trees. Baby otters grow up to become adult otters, without anyone instructing them in otterness. The only way this beautiful process of unfoldment and evolution gets stuck and therefore painful, is because of an attachment. An idea or thought or action that stopped the free flow of energy and consciousness in our divine unfolding.

Whether it was a thought you created yourself or one you downloaded from the collective consciousness, there it is, a tether, holding back some part of a divine or natural process that cannot be stopped.

But life happens, relentlessly. As you continue to move forward through time and your life evolves, this tether or limitation starts to gum up the works. It becomes a sticking point, and requires you to cope with it. It can manifest in your life as a mental limitation (“I’m not good enough”) or a bum knee. Eventually, this tether causes so much interference between you and your perfect unfoldment that we come to understand the feeling of this interference as pain.


Pain is a symptom of attachment, of limitation, of not allowing life to unfold in its brilliance, whatever form that takes. Pain is a result of trying to control and dictate Life itself.

Of this I am sure.

So what about the initial quote? Do I still agree with it? Yes, but I might rephrase it for clarity. Try this one on for size:

“Pain often happens in life due to habitual or unconscious grasping, controlling, and attachment,
but (once you notice it) continuing to suffer because of these limitations is entirely optional.”

Yes, I will still use the initial quote, since mine is pretty unwieldy. But this newly realized rewriting is the deeper meaning I will give to that quote when I say it.

So, what did you think of while washing the dishes this morning?

© Daria Boissonnas 2013