Close Connections: Less suffering
Day to day, life is a mixture of pleasurable, indifferent and painful happenings. It’s the painful ones we dread.
As Oscar Wilde said, “Suffering is one very long moment.”
There are three kinds of suffering, according to Buddhist belief: physical and emotional, the angst created by Life’s constant changing, and the uncertainty of what will happen next in our lives.
We can’t change the way it works. But there are some ways to live with these challenges that can shorten or decrease the extra emotional reactivity we feel to the pain. There is the original hurt and then there’s suffering from reliving it, replaying it, trying to make sense of it, trying to block it.
The following suggestions are from my reading of author Byron Katie who teaches a method of self-reflection to decrease suffering. The example I’ll use is Debbie who believes her partner doesn’t listen to her and is deeply hurt by that.
• Identify what bothers you. Debbie knows what’s making her angry and hurt. But when we don’t know, we can’t figure out the things that eat at us and go round and round. Sometimes it takes awhile, but sitting still, being quiet and tuning into ourselves will usually tell us what we’re suffering with.
• Don’t fight reality. It’s vital to determine if what we’re hurting from is really true. How does Debbie really know he doesn’t listen? The reality is she can’t know for sure.
• Check your attachment to what you think is true. “It’s not our thoughts, but our attachment to our thoughts that causes suffering,” Katie says. Debbie doesn’t just think her partner doesn’t listen. She believes it wholly.
• Learn how what you think affects you. How does Debbie feel in her body when she thinks about him not listening? Stomach ache, chest tightness, headaches. Notice how her belief that he doesn’t listen leads to bad feelings in her body. And how does she feel in their relationship? How does she treat him?
• Discover the story you’re living. What story does Debbie tell herself about the belief he doesn’t listen? Does she think he doesn’t love her? Is having an affair? Wants a divorce? The story she lives makes her miserable.
• Stay in your own business. Katie says there is your business, my business and God’s business (God being both what’s really true and anything out of everyone’s control like natural disasters). Debbie’s focus is on her husband’s business of whether he listens or not. She creates suffering for herself by analyzing it, trying to influence it, wishing it were different, creating a sad story about it, etc.
• Imagine you without that thought. What would Debbie’s life be like if that thought about her husband not listening wasn’t a part of her? How would she feel in her body? How would she feel in their relationship? More peaceful?
The biggest challenge for me when I create extra suffering is to stay in my own business. The good news is, we can all work on living with less pain.
Nancy Norman is a licensed clinical social worker, musician with The Storys and former “Intimacy” columnist for The Wichita Eagle. Email her at