Few years ago, my Zen Master Yangil Sunim (Sunim means teacher) asked me:
“Ji Gong, how often do you practice suffering”.
This is a classical Zen question and, like a Koan, it sounds incomprehensible, paradoxal, illogical and even stupid. The purpose of this kind of questions is to create a short in our pre-frontal cognitive circuit. The mind is in the dark, trying to reconnect the light for finding an logical answer.
I replied: “ No, Sunim, on the contrary, I am trying to look for pleasure and try to avoid pain.
I am not a masochistic person ”
He said: “This is not what I mean. I mean the opposite since a masochist is looking for pain to induce pleasure. JiGong, in life, pain is unavoidable but suffering is optional because this negative feeling can be controlled thru mindfulness meditation. There is quest for pleasure is this practice.”
Suffering is the poor translation of the Sanskrit word Dukkha. Dukkha is the umbrella word for all of our negative feelings induced by past /current events, people, and more frequently created by our ego-mind. Negative feelings go from simple dissatisfaction to dreadful despair including suicidal contemplation. They happen all the time that we like it or not.
Suffering is optional if you decide to practice it, that is to be friend with it rather than resisting, fighting with, or trying to analyze its causes and solutions. If you play the therapist you will fail and even make the suffering more painful.
So, take your suffering for a walk, hand to hand and eyes to eyes like two lovers even try a kiss.
Practice wakefulness to your pain in a mindful way that is w/o any analytic process.
Practice awareness, observation, acceptance and self-compassion of your suffering with whatever type of mental pain you are experiencing: bad event, anger, fear, heartbreak, grief, regrets, loneliness, sadness, hopelessness, failed desires, hatred, and so on. Awareness, observation, acceptance and self-compassion are the first 4 steps before being able to forgive yourself.
Self compassion and self forgiveness will de-sensitize your pain the same way that vaccination works. It creates tolerance and acceptance of the enemy. Suffering becomes optional.
This doesn’t mean that you resign yourself to a life of suffering. It means that you acknowledge your current negative experiences and treat it with respect and courtesy rather than fighting an enemy. By the way, we cannot express compassion forgiveness to others w/o starting with self.
Oriental approach to deal friendly with pain is perceived as counterintuitive and incompatible by most Western therapists.
This Oriental approach to suffering is the exact mirror image of the Western one. For the former, suffering is accepted whereas, for the latter, it must be rejected.
Oriental teaching implies the creation of a positive feeling i.e. compassion against a negative feeling that is pain. This is neutralization.
The Western approach to suffering is to see it as an enemy.
Such antagonistic therapy could induce and perpetuate an ongoing and repetitive suffering with no winners except for the therapist.