May 2 2023
"Pain is inevitable, Suffering is Optional"
Imagine you are thrown in jail in the prime of your youth, you are restless, you have huge plans, you wish to bring a huge change and inspire your fellow countrymen to overthrow a regime which has been characterised by death, destruction and discrimination of your people. But, now that you are in jail and there is no way for you to come out anytime soon, it seems like all your plans will die with you in the jail itself. This is exactly what happened with Nelson Mandela. He spent 27 years in prison as a political prisoner in South Africa. During this time, he faced immense physical and emotional pain, but he chose not to allow that pain to turn into suffering. Instead, he used his time in prison to educate himself, develop his leadership skills, and become a symbol of hope for his people, inspiring them to achieve the unprecedented and went on to become the President of his nation and a symbol of courage and determination the world over.
This is a phrase that encapsulates a fundamental truth about the human experience. It is a message that can be found throughout history, philosophy, religion, and modern psychology. This phrase has been attributed to many different sources, but the concept behind it remains the same: that we cannot always control the pain that we experience in life, but we can choose whether or not to allow that pain to turn into suffering.
Stephen Hawking was a renowned physicist who lived with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) for most of his life. Despite being confined to a wheelchair and losing the ability to speak, he continued to make groundbreaking contributions to the field of physics and to inspire others with his determination and resilience. He never gave up, when almost everyone around him lost hope, he did not, he didn’t let his pain turn into suffering, he never let himself become a victim of his condition, instead he decided to fight till his last breath and he did.
This concept of pain and suffering finds its first mention in the teachings of Buddhism, in the 4 Noble truths in Buddhism. The first noble truth of Buddhism is that life is characterised by suffering. This does not mean that life is entirely negative or full of pain, but rather that we all experience some form of loss, pain, and disappointment. The second noble truth of Buddhism is that suffering is caused by our attachment to things that are impermanent, to the material world’s, to the desires. This attachment leads to craving, which in turn leads to suffering. The third noble truth in Buddhism is that suffering can be overcome by letting go of attachment.
This concept of suffering is also dealt with in ancient Hindu Religion, it is linked to the idea of karma. Karma is the law of cause and effect, and it teaches that our actions have consequences. If we act in ways that harm others, we will experience negative consequences in this life or in future lives. If we act in ways that benefit others, we will experience positive consequences. The law of Karma, to an extent, gives us the control of our pain and suffering. The ultimate goal in Hinduism is to achieve moksha, or liberation from the cycle of birth and death, which can only be achieved by overcoming attachment and achieving self-realization. Overcoming attachment would mean to let go of any unwanted and unreasonable desire.
This is not an entirely religious or spiritual concept, scientifically, pain is a necessary aspect of the human experience. Pain is a signal that something is wrong, and it motivates us to take action to address the problem. However, suffering is not a necessary outcome of pain. Suffering occurs when we resist the pain, when we feel sorry for ourselves, or when we obsess over our pain. Research in positive psychology has shown that our attitude towards pain has a significant impact on our experience of it. When we accept pain as a natural part of life and focus on the positive aspects of our situation, we are less likely to suffer.