Pain vs Suffering: How to Love the Sun but not Run From the Rain

More than anything, it is the quality of your thoughts that will determine your happiness in life. This does not mean that we are not entitled to feel sadness or other such emotions often labelled as ‘negative’. They all serve a purpose- usually to alert us to when something isn’t right or that we need to change.

I only realised recently that I too, often label my thoughts and feelings under the binary umbrella terms ‘positive’ and ‘negative’. We are taught from an early age that many things in life are ‘good’ or ‘bad’, and that we must strive to attain the good and stay clear of the bad. This opposition inevitably results in a constant mental struggle; for in the desire to experience pleasure and positive feelings we can often become dissatisfied or unhappy with ourselves and our circumstances when they are painful or negative. Just like when a rain cloud appears above our head and starts to pour down, the sensation can instinctively make us feel uncomfortable and want to run away- either to shelter or a spot the clouds are not covering.

In the past, because I experienced the feeling of rain as ‘bad‘, and the sun as ‘good‘, when I could not escape a downpour, quite naturally I couldn’t wait for it to be over- and in the meanwhile I suffered intensely. I would shiver angrily and disconsolately, internally raging at myself and the weather for being so unfair. By wishing my circumstances were different (‘Things didn’t have to be this way..’, ‘If only I..’, ‘Why didn’t I..?’) I merely made the unpleasant feelings seem all the more intolerable. I only accepted life when I was in control and it was going my way. I laughed in the sun and cried in the rain.

Now, if possible, I try to stay calm and stand under that (literal and metaphorical) rain cloud, even when I am unprepared for it and wearing completely the wrong shoes. Warmth and comfort are good friends to us all, but as much as you enjoy their company it is important not to turn the rain into your enemy. If I can see the sun I will always walk over to it, but other times there is only black cloud and I must accept that the feeling and pleasure of those sunlight rays may not appear for a while. Perhaps I am not quite laughing with joy (because ultimately, I would still like to feel happy) but I try to allow myself to experience feeling cold and uncomfortable.

This is how I finally started to understand the wisdom of the saying ‘pain is inevitable, suffering is optional’.

Finally understanding this knowledge has helped me to do my best to accept when I feel sad or unhappy, and not give these emotions the ‘negative’ authority to undermine my ability to appreciate life- for they are necessary and inescapable for learning and growth.  They are not of lesser quality than ‘positive’ emotions: it is up to our reactions and behaviour to determine their value to us. Negative thoughts are really only so when they keep us locked in one place, or stuck in the past. You can use thoughts and feelings, wherever they fall on the emotional spectrum, to put fuel in the tank to drive yourself forward.

If life can only be tolerable when the sun is out, then a great deal of valuable experience and opportunities for learning will be lost. Change the quality of your thoughts by evaluating how they can be of use to you. In this way, when the rain does pour down you’ll always have a pocket umbrella handy if you need it- but you may just find that standing in the rain is not so bad, after all.

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