Pain vs. Suffering

Question from a reader:

“What about suffering that involves physical pain?  My husband is in terrible pain following extensive surgery. Isn’t that suffering? How does he change the response to pain? He is on board with what you wrote above about choosing how to look at all events as neutral and changing how we react to those events.”

Obviously we are talking about physical suffering vs. emotional suffering, which are two similar but different things. To use a very famous quote…

Pain – particularly physical pain – happens and it always will. It serves an evolutionary purpose to let us know when the physical body is in danger.

But just like emotional pain, you can also attach to physical pain and make the experience worse than it actually has to be. 

Think about it-

When you stub your toe, the typical reaction is that suddenly every ounce of awareness you have in your body is focused on that single point. Now you’re not just mildly aware of pain, you are fully aware, and that amplifies your experience of it.

Energy goes where attention flows…if you are focusing on your physical pain, you are going to be more aware of it. So in order to decrease the physical sensation, you have to learn to train your mind to go where you want it to go, and not be reactive. It’s the same technique you use with emotional reactions, just with a slightly different application.

When I am in physical pain, I use meditative techniques to help me focus elsewhere until it passes. Deep breaths from the belly (not the chest), with heavy exhales. Focus on the breath, not the pain.  I also use a visualization where I imagine my body as a net and the pain as water flowing through it. I find that this often helps lessen the experience.

Of course, it’s all going to depend on the nature of the pain and the injury and the individual ability to really focus their mind. We developed pain killers for a reason!

Here’s a meditation specifically for chronic pain management. If this guy’s voice doesn’t resonate with  you, do a quick google search and see what else is out there.




  1. So, the question is, at what point do we focus our mind elsewhere to not focus on the pain; versus inquiring ourselves on why the body gave us such feedback; or inquiring on the nature and quality of the cause action / event / behavior?

    • Well, in this particular instance, the pain is due to surgery. So focusing on that pain isn’t really helpful, because it was more or less elective. The place to focus your energy would have been on what was causing the thing that required surgery to begin with. That’s where you have to dig for the emotional aspects of it.

  2. Bless you and thank you. I am happy to report that with a lot of deep breathing, visualization and (most importantly), a trip back to the doctor to get to the bottom of the pain, he is on the road to recovery! I totally see and understand the difference now…what you said makes perfect sense. Thanks Ashley.

    • You’re welcome 🙂


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