Vitality VS Suffering; How We Can Choose to Find Meaning in Pain

By Paige Zuckerman, Clinical Director

I’m going to start this month by acknowledging that the idea that we can choose to find meaning in pain is borne from deep personal and professional experience. I’ve enjoyed the privilege to be invited to sit with folks through incredible, sometimes unspeakable struggle and loss, as well as to see them thrive in the face of it. I’ve also had my life upended, shredded, dismantled and reformed in ways I could never have anticipated. I’ve had the honor to abandon my expectations and discover new paths, sometimes through violent, whiplashing change. 

So here’s my statement for the thawing winter and forthcoming springtime regrowth; pain is inevitable. Suffering is not. Let’s sit with that for a moment. 

Maybe you’re irritated by that notion. Maybe you’re curious. Maybe you think I’m an idiot (feel free to any such responses.) Here’s my philosophical pitch to you-life will undoubtedly bring us all great and possibly enormous pain through all our years. That’s a fact. Physical, emotional, psychological…all of the above in one big nasty cookie-dough mishmash. Pain will happen. But what relationship will we have with our inevitable pain? What association and eventual meaning will we make of it? What if the relationship I have with my pain is where my power lies? What if I have a choice?

Now don’t misapprehend; I am in no way dismissing, minimizing or discarding pain in its ability to debilitate, destruct or disturb. Those are all potential truths of the powerfulness of pain. However, the reality of pain does not necessitate the response to it. I can feel incredible pain, yet choose not to mire myself in judgment, combat or detachment from it. I can honor my pain, attend to it with loving kindness, and allow it to move through me until it naturally shifts and maybe even subsides. Perhaps that is the path of non-suffering.

Let me offer an example; a female-identified (she/her/hers) person in her early thirties gets a call from a doctor with bad news…exceptional, life-altering, incurable bad news. For years she sees doctors, imbibes combinations of medical concoctions. Her partnership begins to fall apart alongside her health. The goals and expectations she had for a family, for certain assumed markers in life fall by the wayside. By her later thirties she’s lost a marriage and hopes for her own family, her home, her pets, her able-bodiedness. Yet she’s never suffered, and she has felt great and hefty pain of all fashions. How did she not suffer? Because she chose to acknowledge her great, hefty pain, learn from it, face it with   boldness and vulnerability, learn to say no and ask for help, and to find new meaning: a new, creative sense of self in the dream indefinitely deferred. Now, her life is very, very different than the one she’d planned, and yet she has joy, purpose and love in that different life nonetheless. Do you want to know why I know that pain is not a choice but suffering is? Because I am her.

Think today on how you might choose the non-suffering relationship with your pain. May we all see a few warmer days and sprouting things coming forth soon.

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