In Part 1, we discussed how our attempts at controlling our human pain — the unpleasant thoughts, emotions and sensations — don’t work and oftentimes create a whole new set of issues for us.
So, let’s jump into two other concepts to understand Pain vs. Suffering. Let’s take social anxiety as an example. The “pain” that I feel with social anxiety is the trembling legs as I walk up to give the speech or the shaky voice when I do those cringe-worthy introductions in a group setting or the attempts at protection by the mind as it produces the top 10 reasons I should skip the event tomorrow night.
That’s pain and we can consider that “anxiety’s job.” That is an inside the skin problem. Just assume that you have as much control over that as you do on whether it rains tonight or not. Your job is to interpret that pain and how you decide to proceed in the face of it.
An illustration of this that comes to mind is Warren Buffet and the stock market. Old Warren’s greatest strength is his equanimity in the face of the rising and falling of the market. He calls it Mr. Market and he knows that he can’t control Mr. Market. Therefore he doesn’t freak out when Mr. Market goes haywire — just like humans and the 50/50 split of pain and pleasure that we will experience. The market will sometimes be up and sometimes be down. Warren’s job is to make the best decisions in accordance with his investing values and let Mr. Market do whatever the hell it does.
Now back to us. We need to relate to pain the same way that Warren relates to Mr. Market because if we don’t, we will be creating suffering for ourselves. Suffering is the extra layer of trouble that we add to the unpleasant thoughts, emotions and sensations. Suffering is when we entertain the thoughts “what’s wrong with me, why can’t I just be normal, why am I so fucked up?” We then start to worry about our worry, or become depressed about our anxiety, or anxious about our panic.
There is a parable in Buddhism called the Second Arrow that further illustrates this point. A man is shot by an arrow; that’s pain. He can’t control the pain that wells up inside of him. He then is metaphorically shot by a second self-induced arrow when he says, “Why would anyone shoot me? What have I done to deserve this? Why me? I’ll never be the same again; my life is over.” The second arrow is the response to the first. The second arrow consists of our stories or interpretations about the first arrow. Now even those arise on their own, BUT we get to decide whether we believe them or not.
So it’s our response to the feelings, thoughts and emotions that is within our control and that is where our focus should remain in order to make some inroads.
Peace is not found by winning the war; peace is found by ceasing the battle.
- What if I’m just like a tree that has grown to lean a little to the side in that my unique set of genetics and life experiences has resulted in me being exactly how I am?
- What if, just like the tree, there is nothing wrong with that? What if I’m not broken and therefore not something that “needs fixing”?
- What if my thoughts and feelings are not the main problem? What if they can be just how they are and do not have to control my actions?
- What if the problem is believing all of my painful thoughts and trying to avoid painful feelings which causes me to suffer and keeps me from living well?
- Think of a specific struggle in your life and ask yourself
- Is this an inside the skin or an outside the skin problem? Another way of asking this in light of the Serenity prayer is, is this a change or an accept in my life?
- Then ask yourself, “How are my added stories, interpretations or avoidance of my feelings adding suffering to this already painful situation?”
- Finally, ask, “If I wasn’t so busy struggling with ____, I would be doing _________.”
If you are ready to cease the war with anxiety, reach out to talk about therapy can help.
You can reach me at firstname.lastname@example.org. Or feel free to text or call 804-210-7891. To learn more about my approach to therapy, visit www.richmondanxiety.com.