Articles

Part I of this Big Idea: We need to realize that it’s our resistance to our pain that leads to the deepest suffering.

As Boorstein says: Pain is inevitable. Suffering is optional.

This echoes the wisdom from Kristin Neff’s great book Self-Compassion (see Notes) where she tells us: “I once went on a meditation retreat with a wonderful teacher named Shinzen Young, who gave me words of wisdom that I’ll never forget. He said that the key to happiness was understanding that suffering is caused by resisting pain. We can’t avoid pain in life, he said, but we don’t necessarily have to suffer because of that pain… he chose to express these words of wisdom with an equation: ‘Suffering = Pain x Resistance.’ He then added, ‘Actually, it’s an exponential rather than a multiplicative relationship.’ His point was that we can distinguish between the normal pain of life—difficult emotions, physical discomfort, and so on—and actual suffering, which is the mental anguish caused by fighting against the fact that life is sometimes painful.”

Pain is inevitable. Accept that. Work with it. Learn from it. And thereby reduce your suffering and save that wasted energy for your growth and wisdom.

That leads us to the second part of this Idea: “When difficulties arise, see them as dharma.”

Our society CONSTANTLY gives us a million distractions and numbing agents to our slightest discomfort.

But what if, rather than turn away from that which challenges us, we leaned into it?

Ryan Holiday would tell us that The Obstacle Is the Way (see those Notes). While Alex Lickerman describes it as turning poison into medicine and tells us (see Notes on The Undefeated Mind): “From the Buddhist perspective, I told him, all of us have the capacity to make use of any circumstance, no matter how awful, to create value. This ability to ‘change poison into medicine,’ as it is known in Nichiren Buddhism, makes plausible the transformation of even the most horrific tragedy into something that enables us to become happier. . . .

Believing in your ability to transform poison into medicine when you don’t know how, and often won’t except in retrospect, is difficult, I admit. But that’s the confidence you have to find. That’s the confidence that represents your greatest defense against discouragement.”