No one is exempt. We all get to suffer. Money or status or success won’t buy you a free pass from suffering.

But how much of our suffering is by our choice and how much is not?

I love this question. It invites deep contemplation and rich dialogue.

Here is how I distinguish optional suffering from unavoidable suffering.

Unavoidable suffering

– intense and chronic physical pain caused by disease, genetics, environmental consequences like being trapped in a burning house, accidents; intense emotional pain cause by loss of a loved one, or the diagnosis of a severe disease; existential pain caused by a deep experience of separation from love, connectivity, soul.

Optional suffering

-pretty much anything else….the feeling of being slighted at school because you were not picked to participate; the pain of confusion over what path to take; any form of judgement, opinion, projection that we make as a reflex response; being a victim of bullying; being the bully; not knowing what to do; not feeling worthy or valued; a sense of abandonment…(and I could go on and on)

To clarify, I am not proposing that optional suffering is wrong, or stupid, or invalid. Pain is pain…we feel what we feel. Just how much we allow these feelings to cause suffering, and to inhabit our every day existence is our choice. Always. And sometimes (often) we need to learn to see this…and the tools to move through optional suffering.

Real humanity is not always about becoming the perfect person who doesn’t suffer. Or ‘fixing’ broken things in our makeup. I posit that the path of wholeness is integrating all aspects of self, of reaching a place where we know that our current suffering is actually a choice.

And when we are in the throws of unavoidable suffering, knowing as well that this too shall pass, that to surrender into the suffering is the way through.


Photo credit: Evan via CompfightCreative Commons License