Suffering = Pain x Resistance
I was recently teaching an introduction to mindfulness course and was reminded of a simple equation. Now equations usually fill me with a sense of dread, they trigger flashback to maths classes, this one, though, is different.
Suffering = Pain x resistance
What this is saying is that our suffering is amplified by our resistance to it. Pain in life is, sadly, inevitable, however if we believe this equation then we can mitigate some of the suffering by reducing our resistance to the pain……how do we do this though? Pain is never nice so how do we begin to embrace it?
According to the mindfulness teacher Shinzen Young who came up with the equation though pain is a constant resistance is not. Now I am not saying you ignore the pain, pain is what it is and you o have it for a reason, whether you like it or not, ignoring it is resisting it. Instead how about working with the pain, learning to let go or soften it? If you reduce your resistance the suffering will not be as intense, so the theory goes.
So how do you reduce your resistance?
- Firstly, being able to recognise resistance, what does it feel like in your body?
Where do you feel it?
What are the thoughts you have when experiencing resistance?
Can you see how resistance affects your experience but is separate from that experience? On a recent shopping trip my husband decided to sit down in a shop while I carried on looking for things. He said at first he was relaxed and was enjoying people watching but as time went on he got more and more worked up, he could feel tension in his shoulders and hands and noticed his thoughts included things such as why doesn’t she hurry up? What is taking so long? I’m getting really stressed out here. Nothing had changed for him in the external environment, the only thing that had changed was his internal environment, what he told himself about the situation and how he felt, the story he told himself. Can you notice the stories you tell yourself about your pain experiences?
- Secondly through training your tolerance muscles in small ways, being willing to be with something mildly unpleasant. For example, next time you get an itch on your nose, how would it be not to scratch the itch right away? Just sit and notice what you notice about how your mind reacts. It’s quite likely it will kick up a storm against why this is so ridiculous not to scratch, just watch your mind rallying and let the nose itch. Eventually the itch will go away by itself. This seems a small thing but can be revolutionary. We live in a quick fix society, we have many means available to us to fulfil our whims which is great but has, I think, taken away the knowledge that we can tolerate a craving/discomfort. Did you know that the brains circuitry for a thought, an emotion or an urge lasts only 90 seconds if it isn’t being reinforced just observed? I think most of us can tolerate/be with anything for 90 seconds.
You could try using a mindful minute when experiencing an urge/difficult thought emotion. It isn’t about ignoring what is going on but taking a small step back to notice how you are reacting and gain some perspective to see if there is another way for you.
Working with resistance repeatedly over time will result in several things;
- You will become more familiar with resistance and tolerate it much better.
- You will notice that more often than not the resistance will lessen significantly or dissipate just by you noticing it.
- Resistance as an automatic reflex to everything we don’t like will diminish in many situations
– You may find that you don’t sweat the small stuff anymore/as much
What do you think? Does it help to stop resisting pain? Can it be done?