Some Personal Thoughts on Suffering

I’ve been ridiculously ill the last week now, on top of the herniated disk in my lumbar region, on top of the migraines which are becoming more frequent again. It had me thinking about suffering earlier today, how you can’t really compare certain pain with other pain in any quantifiable sense. How different is my experience of back pain from someone else’s? How can I even explain the difference between unbearable migraine pain and unbearable back pain to someone who has experienced neither? Or why I prefer the latter to the former?

Everything else seems to be going along just fine in my life. I am very happily married, I’m writing and getting work published, I’m holding down a job in spite of my current disability. Who knows what miserable state I would be in if I didn’t have these things to keep me positive? But I find myself turning to prayer again more these days. When I recite the five-syllable mantra, I wish for nobody else to have to suffer any pain like I am experiencing, be it “the same,” “better” or “worse” in strength. And I wish for other to always find good fortune in their lives, however likely that is. I believe this is a very powerful way to pray. I hope it really does benefit others, and I acknowledge too that I do it to help myself relax about my own suffering and pain.

We can’t share each other’s pain, even if we can empathize to some extent. There is no limit to the volume of suffering we can experience; there can always be worse pain, physical and emotional. I really do believe this, very deeply. But I also believe there is an end to suffering and a way to achieve this, as a Buddhist should. It keeps me going more than anything else. I hope I will understand it better before I die, however close or distant that may turn out to be.

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One thought on “Some Personal Thoughts on Suffering

  1. Hang in there Eric. Elaine Scarry I think has written on the body in pain. Have you read it? It’s very much about this idea of the quantifiability of pain, expressing pain. Also, you can at the very least fry your pain receptors at some levels of pain. But yeah, if it gets worse, it will register as worse.

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