Pain is Inevitable, Suffering is Optional

Pain can be exhausting!

I just got back from Yosemite National Park, a trip I have been looking forward to for over a year. It was very hot, over 105° every day. And very dry, and the last day there we smelled smoke from nearby fires. All of that made the trip challenging but dealing with sciatic pain made it even more difficult.

You know me, I am the one who is always looking for the positive, the inspiration, the way to turn a challenge into an opportunity. I certainly tried to do that on this trip. We didn’t hike, we walked, slowly, which actually turned out to be a good thing. By taking our time, we noticed things that we might have missed if we had been hiking to cover ground. We say a sequoia cone that was standing upright on the ground, with a ray of sunlight shining directly on it.

Sequoia Cone

We watched a small Douglas squirrel, what they call a chickaree, happily picking and eating the pods from another sequoia cone. We met people on the trail from all over the country. We say beautiful wildflowers and spoke to Buckshot, who has been driving a stagecoach in Yosemite for over 50 years!

Buckshot – Yosemite Stagecoach driver

We even got free ice cream at Glacier Point because the electricity was out at the store there.

There were many wonderful moments during our visit to Yosemite and through it all, I was dealing with pain. Sitting, standing, walking all offered different levels of discomfort. Laying down offered the only relief and I was not going to miss my opportunity to experience the grandeur of the park.

Lessons from Coach Training

When I was in coach training, they taught us that pain is inevitable, suffering is optional. That is not an easy concept to accept. It has to do with a mindset. Suffering arises when you ask yourself questions like, “Why me?” or you tell yourself “This is not fair.” This kind of thinking will only make the pain worse.

Admitting pain, emotional or physical is not easy for me. I don’t want to whine; I don’t want to appear weak. I typically try to power through physical pain, doing some stretching, using ice or heat, or maybe an analgesic rub. When I am in emotional pain, I typically hibernate, isolate myself so as not to burden others. I am learning through this episode and as I am getting older (and wiser) that admitting pain is not a weakness. Pain is inevitable. We are human. We all experience pain.

It is the suffering is optional part that is harder to accept. Yes, pain is exhausting, it can limit what we do, and we have a choice of how to respond to these limitations. When exhausted, we can rest. When feeling limited or slowed down, we can slow down. As I am writing this post, I am feeling the pain, both in my hip and leg and in my neck and shoulder. I felt it was important to acknowledge that and share that with all of you. We are not superheroes and that is ok. We are human beings. Let’s give ourselves some grace and permission to feel.

Another thing we learned in coach training was to acknowledge and validate a person’s feelings. That does not mean fix, it means acknowledge and validate. For instance, “I hear that you are really in pain. That must be quite exhausting.” Just that can make a person feel heard. And feeling heard can reduce our suffering. This is also difficult to do when we see a loved one experiencing pain or challenges. Something I continue to work on, not always successfully.

I hope the severity of my pain will pass soon. I am seeing this experience as an opportunity to learn more empathy for others who are in pain. I am seeing this experience to practice acknowledge and validate more consciously. I Sometimes life gives us lessons that we need to learn.

What do you think?

What do you think? How do you handle pain and suffering?

4 thoughts on “Pain is Inevitable, Suffering is Optional

  1. Excellent and timely share out post. Thank you Wendy. I will do my best to “reflect the feeling” and listen with empathy without trying to “fix it” when we meet up for breakfast this Friday. For now, please know that I love you and wish you the grace and serenity as you move with and through the pain. Your writing inspires me!

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  2. Thanks Wendy. I agree that many times, people don’t speak of it, but then those who do will find others are having similar issues and then a new connection and empathy occurs between them. This also helped me today in reading it and hope to remember throughout the day. I hope you feel better and thinking positively as you do, helps the muscles and amount of pain you might have. Thanks for sharing.

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