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Nature of pain and suffering

sufferingIn this article I will make an attempt to describe some revelations and insights I had during a course of Vipassana. I don’t understand everything and some things I don’t understand at all, but I hope my thoughts might help other people seeking to free themselves from old emotional pain and suffering.

If you’ve read “The Power of Now” by Ekchart Tolle, or simply practiced the suggested techniques and observed the conditioned patterns of your mind, then you know that most of our negative emotions arise from a resistance to what is. Boredom, impatience, anger, intolerance, irritation and annoyance surface when we don’t accept what’s happening in the present moment. I am not going to discuss this in detail because Mr. Tolle explained it all much better than I ever could. If you’re interested in learning more – read his book.

What I want to do is to touch on something else that happens – something that’s going on in your body. Your body possesses its own, though primitive and instinctive, consciousness. This is what we call our “subconsciousness” or “unconscious mind.” This is because all the processes in the body take place without us being consciously aware of them. The beating of your heart, blood flowing through your blood vessels, breathing, your immune system – those are just few examples. Also, our bodies have an ability to automatically and instinctually react to danger. One of the reactions is a contraction of our muscles, nerves and, possibly, the cells themselves.

If you observe yourself in a moment of intense fear you will see how the muscles of your stomach contract in response. This is a more obvious reaction.

There is another aspect of this reaction which occurs not only when there’s a real danger, but also when our “thinking mind” interprets something as negative, unwanted, unpleasant or dangerous. For example, if it’s cold and rainy outside, we may think, “What awful weather!” In response to this thought our body contracts and sometimes we might even begin to shiver. If we think that the weather is wonderful, this reaction doesn’t happen.

Try this experiment: If you have a painful place in your body right now, direct your attention to it. Close your eyes and carefully observe it. You’ll notice that the underlying sensation in this area might feel like pressure, tension, or perhaps a stretching sensation. Pain may arise when the body resists those sensations and our muscles and nerves contract around this place. If you concentrate on this area and force your body to relax – the pain will disappear and only the underlying sensation will remain. What this means is that your suffering results not from the pain itself, but from your body’s resistance to it.

Now imagine that there is some conditioned thought living inside you, perhaps from your childhood, or passed to you by your parents, or maybe even from previous lives. For example, “Nobody loves me.” Each time we react to a situation which appears to confirm our belief, the corresponding thought enters our mind (most of the time without awareness on our part), and our body reacts to this situation by the contraction of some organs or body parts.

Time-after-time our heart (or some other muscles or body parts), contracts from this pain leaving us with a deeper and deeper wound. It actually becomes written into cells of our body, deep within our subconsciousness. The process follows this path: Somebody says or does something, or something happens around us and our mind automatically and conditionally interprets this as “nobody loves me.” Then the body instantaneously reacts to it and from its depths the emotion arises. It happens so fast that we are totally unaware of the process. By the time this emotion reaches our consciousness it’s too late. The triggered emotion is raging in our inner world, spreading around negative energy and destroying our own health.  It sucks everybody around us into its vortex.

And so we go about our lives reacting habitually and automatically to the external stimulus and being totally overpowered by these forces which seem out of our control. Since all of us have accumulated many of these automatic, conditioned responses – you can imagine the depth of suffering we all live in.

Then the question is: how do we get rid of these old pains and reactions? Only by uprooting them on the level of the body. We start by learning to accept what is. This way we can stop generating new pain and suffering. Then, when the old pain begins to come to the surface, it becomes possible to transmute it into a more positive energy by not resisting to it, by allowing ourselves to feel whatever we feel. (Note that sometimes part of “what is,” is the pain itself).

The most important thing we can do is learn to become more AWARE of our emotions and how they are associated with our physical pain. Quite often the reason we don’t FEEL any emotions is because we have so much fear of them that we shut them down before they even reach our level of awareness. Sometimes we’re so disconnected from our body that we’re not aware of any sensations at all.

Fear serves as a sort of a gatekeeper.  It’s a protective mechanism we learned as children when we couldn’t deal with intense pain or negativity.  Now that you’re an adult you can realize that these fears don’t really protect you at all. If you ALLOW yourself to start feeling whatever comes, the process will start unraveling.

The next step is to practice staying aware when any negative emotion arises.  As soon as you become aware of an existing negativity (in whatever form – anger, hurt, irritation, heaviness, discontent, etc.), stop whatever you’re doing (if it’s practically possible), and direct your full attention to the exact place in your body where the sensation corresponding to this negativity is rooted.  Concentration on the tensed spot will lead to its relaxation and it helps to release and transmute this “stuck” energy. If you feel like crying, let yourself cry with your whole body.  Allow the sobbing and screaming to come to the surface.

This approach also increases awareness of your body.  On a theoretical level it can be explained like this: the more we become aware of our body, the more it relaxes and the accumulated old pain gets released from the habitually contracted parts of our body.  Literally, old suppressed feelings come to the surface.

Extra help might be needed for those who never paid much attention to their bodies. There are a multitude of different techniques, methods, teachings and practices that can be used. It’s very important to choose a technique which helps to increase your awareness.  For example, rebirthing, various forms of body work, massage, balancing techniques, etc., can help to untie the old energy “knots.”  But as far as I know they don’t really increase awareness and won’t help to penetrate into the depths of your subconscious mind.

Vipassana and Systemic Family Constellations, (see – are two very good approaches. But also yoga, tai-chi, various martial arts,  body-oriented psychotherapies – all of these can be beneficial as long as you use them to increase your conscious awareness, including body awareness.  I am certain there are other techniques that exist out there which I might not know about, but you can find something that will work for you.  When there is a will, there is always a way.

The liberation from pain and suffering is possible and the first step on this path is a recognition that it exists in your life.  Only then will the process of healing and transformation start.  And so will your journey on the path to your own freedom and happiness.

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