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Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Understanding the Difference Between Pain and Suffering

What is the difference between pain and suffering?  Can pain and suffering lead us to a more purposeful life?   Is it possible to find the courage within us to let go and surrender to whatever might be happening or has happened in our life in order to transcend our suffering and return to a state of bliss?  I know this might be a hard thing to grasp, especially if you are in the middle of the storm right now, but let's take a look at what pain is.  Pain is essentially a range of unpleasant bodily sensations that are produced by an illness, an accident, etc.  A hurtful word can cause pain.  Pain can be momentary, a pain that passes; or it can be chronic, an injury or illness that affects us for long periods of time, perhaps our whole life.  Pain forces us to slow down and return back to ourselves;  it remind us of what's important, and often we must take time to heal our wounds.  Suffering, on the other hand, is significantly different.  With suffering, we're undergoing some kind of pain, grief, trauma, experience, or damage that is agonizing to the individual and is experienced over an indefinite period of time.  Suffering is contained and finds its sustenance in the mind.  When we suffer, we keep reliving the past in our minds, and our emotions are dominated by the feelings of guilt, shame, anger, regret, grief, and blame.  It's as if a part of our soul has been trapped and locked down by this event or experience, and our lives are forever altered and damaged by what has occurred.  We can also suffer over the future, and this is rooted in fear - fear of what might happen or could happen.  As a consequence of suffering, we are both our own jailer and prisoner.  Our thoughts and memories attack us from the inside, we are continually bombarded with intrusive, disquieting, tormenting remembrances or fantasies, and at times, it feels the suffering will never end.

By understanding the difference between pain and suffering, by breaking it down and looking at what is actually happening, we might be able to find a key to having that long lasting, self-maintaining natural happiness we all want.  This idea comes from the brilliant work of Roman Braun.  Roman Braun is a master trainer in Neuro-Linguistic Programming and is a disciple of Vicktor Frankl's work, Logotherapy.  After many years of research and work in both fields, Braun has developed a model which incorporates both Frankl's emphasis on finding meaning in the experience, finding its purpose, and his own work in NLP.

Braun discovered that one of the difficulties with Frankl's model is in putting it into practice.  How does an individual take these big, deep, philosophical ideas about the meaning of one's life and apply it to their everyday experiences?  How does he or she incorporate and weave this into their daily life and habits?  For example, we might discover the meaning of our existence is to love all life without judgment, and yet, we often find ourselves challenged by people who's behavior is unconscious and unloving.  It becomes even more difficult to sustain a high level of love for others when you have experienced violence, war, and cruelty, in whatever form.  And yet, you must find a way, regardless of circumstances, to discover and live out the creed in your heart.  This is a challenge we all face, no matter what stage of life we are in, where we live, or what we do, to put into practice the meaning of our lives, and not get sucked into the enormity of suffering everywhere on this planet, our own and others.

In Neuro-Linguistic Programming, the basic idea of this model is that humans are pain-avoiding and pleasure-seeking beings.  It is possible to get very quick results with NLP, however, usually, it is not long lasting.  Why?  Well, one of the biggest problems with this model is that a lot of the most important aspects of what it means to be human it doesn't explain.  If we are pain avoiding and pleasure-seeking machines, as NLP suggests, this doesn't explain why a child will deliberately put his hand in the cookie jar when he knows he'll get in trouble for doing so;  or why a human being will deliberately run into a burning building in order to save a person or a beloved animal's life; or why a soldier will jump out in the middle of heavy cross-fire to rescue his wounded brother wounded on the field of battle, or dive onto a live grenade to save the lives of his brothers so they may live, and he will die.  These examples do not support the idea that all we are is pain avoiding, pleasure-seeking creatures.  There's another motivation deep inside us.

Roman Braun was seeking a common denominator for both models concerning the soul and human behavior. He was driving one day on the highway and was stuck in traffic, and while they were parked on the highway, he looked over and he saw this woman who was yelling and screaming in her car at someone who wasn't even there!  Now, how many of you can relate to this?  Have you ever found yourself in an argument with someone who wasn't in front of you, who wasn't even there?  I certainly have.  During the darkest times in my crisis with PTSD and trauma, I was having arguments and fights with people all the time in my imagination.  I would have long, melodramatic dialogues with these individuals; I would rerun certain events in my memory, and then imagine meeting this person, whether it was male or female, and give them a piece of my mind.  Very often I was having arguments with God, or with myself, and screaming, literally, 'What did I do to deserve this?  Why did this happen to me?  How can people be so cruel!  How could I be so cruel!'  Looking back on it, had someone looked in on what I was doing, they might of thought I was crazy.

Braun realized there was a problem.  Seeing this woman yelling at someone who wasn't even there doesn't fit in with the Logotherapy model of Viktor Frankl.  There's no purpose behind it.  And, it didn't fit into the NLP model which would suggest that we are pain-avoiding, pleasure-seeking beings, because, if we were, we wouldn't yell and scream at someone who's not there.  We wouldn't be obsessing about past traumas, old dramas, reliving past memories and the things that had happened to us that were hurtful or painful.

Here's a question I want to ask all of you: have you ever noticed that when you experience pain, say for instance, someone said or did a hurtful thing to you, you feel the pain in the moment, the moment passes, but the suffering over it is huge?  You could be thinking and suffering about this for days, weeks, months on end, maybe even years!  Why do we do this??  This is what Roman Braun set out to uncover.

When Roman Braun combined the two models together, this is the model he came up with:

Neuro-Linguistic Programming

PAIN                       PLEASURE

Purpose     FULL Surrender                    Joy                                       

        LESS  Suffering                 Distraction                      

To understand this, you must combine the Purpose (Full or Less) with the NLP attributes of Pain or Pleasure.  What you come up with are four combinations:  Purpose-Full Pain, Purpose-Less Pain, Purpose-Less Pleasure, and Purpose-Full Pleasure.  Let's break it down even further so you fully grasp the meaning behind each combination.

Purpose-Full Pain:  To many of you, this might seem ludicrous.  However, after interviewing many new mothers who had just given childbirth, Braun discovered something fascinating about each mother's response to the pain endured and how much they suffered.  On a pain scale of 1 to 100, 100 being the most excruciating pain you can imagine, childbirth ranks at or above 100 (sorry guys, but the gals got us on this one!).  Every new mother he interviewed, though they experienced a lot of suffering, a lot of pain, in the moment, not one of them looked back and said they suffered any pain.  So, here you have this extraordinary amount of pain, delivering a child, but no suffering.  Braun asked why?  What he concluded was that the reason they didn't suffer was because this pain adds something to the continuity of life.  As a consequence, the women experienced no suffering.  In Braun's model he calls this surrender.

Purpose-Less Pain:  This is what we would call, and Braun identifies in his model, as suffering.  This can be caused by the smallest of pains.  For example, someone says something to us that offends or insults us.  A simple look can cause suffering.  In these situations, both parties lose, because it doesn't serve their best interests, and it brings out the worst in each person.  Usually, deep down, both parties want to make something better of the situation than what actually happened, but their suffering prevents them from being able to see things with new eyes, and atone and forgive whatever errors may have been perpetrated or experienced by both parties.

Purpose-Less Pleasure:  Is there such a thing?  At first sight, this may seem absurd.  But if we dig deep enough, we discover that yes, there is such a thing as Purpose-Less Pleasure.  Someone who is depressed or suicidal after having experienced a traumatic event, who is experiencing PTSD, might resort to using medical or illegal drugs and/or alcohol in order to medicate themselves from the pain and suffering that they are experiencing.  This helps the person to 'numb-out'.  There is pleasure in reducing one's pain, one's suffering.  And for a time, this might be exactly what is called for to survive.  The danger of using this means as a way of escaping the suffering is the possibility of addiction.  Very often people become addicted to the substances their using.  Many suffers will recognize this eventually, and attempt to stop, then they realize the suffering is still there and has been made worse because of the addiction.  Why is it worse?  There are a lot of reasons.  Perhaps their relationships have broken off; there might be a loss of self-esteem and confidence; there's added guilt and shame for the things they did; there are so many reasons that make the matters worse.  What then often happens, is the sufferer returns to the drugs, alcohol or medications to reduce the pain and suffering.  This becomes a vicious cycle.  All drugs have this, whether its legal or illegal, or whether its alcohol, you have a momentary pleasure now, you feel good, but then afterwards, you feel so much worse.  Braun calls this distraction, because you are distracting yourself from the suffering.  Most people move between suffering and distraction.  You are suffering, you're in pain, you distract yourself, you feel good for a while, and then you move back into suffering.  I know this was my pattern.  Can any of you reading this relate?  I know I'm not alone in this.

Purpose-Full Pleasure:  Simply put, this is joy.  Joy is extreme pleasure or gladness.  Joy comes from knowing what connects you to that which makes your heart sing, which fills you up with so much love you can barely contain yourself from the exuberance you feel for your life.  Joy can come from the pleasure that you seek by doing things with others that help you grow and be of service to others.  There exists a natural process of giving and receiving, where no one feels used, and that everyone gains from the connection and interaction.  There's joy that comes from doing the things you love - swimming, hiking, yoga, singing, dancing, horseback riding, etc.  These examples are activities you do that resonate in the deepest part of your soul and adds to the richness of your life.  Joy can also come from the sharing of ideas.  It brings me great joy to share my thoughts with you about how you can heal and transform your life after PTSD and trauma.

Many, if not most people who suffer from PTSD and trauma, are vacillating between suffering and distraction.  How, then, can you get to the next level where you are living between surrender and joy?  Is it even possible?  From my own personal experience, there is a magic that starts happening when you begin to seek answers to these questions.  When I made the decision that I was going to heal myself of all the pains, traumas, and sufferings of my past, when I decided I was no longer going to distract myself from the work that needed to be done, I was able, after dedicating years of personal effort, to move up to the level between surrender and joy.  I faced what was in me that needed to be faced, I grasped the courage to move through all the suffering and pain I had accumulated over 39 years of my life, gave myself the tools and permission to allow all this stuff to be processed, and healed.  I reclaimed my life.  You can do this too.  I have the program when you are ready.

When we re-frame our story, in order to extract the good that came out of it, to learn the lessons hidden in the traumatic experiences, to find the treasure, it enables you to stand taller, free from the pains and sufferings of your past, and move up to the level of surrender and joy, ready to create a new future unlike anything you have yet to experience.  We have to be willing to ask ourselves this question for whatever suffering we've gone through:  Are we willing to pay the price for it?  When you discover for yourself that it is possible to move from suffering and distraction to surrender and joy, you start to participate in life that feels so magical.  You're happy for no reason at all.  Why?  Because that's where we all started from, we all began this journey through life living between surrender and joy.  As children, we all had this.  Children have a lot of surrender and joy.

Did you ever think about how many times a child falls down before he or she learns how to walk?  A child may fall down 300 times before he or she walks.  They have no sense of failure, no sense of suffering that we adults have.  If a child fell down the first time he or she tried to walk and began suffering over it - 'Oh, I'm never going to get up, I bumped my head, my legs don't work right, it's just too hard' - none of us would have walked.  The child keeps going regardless of the challenges and struggles he or she may have and does it without suffering.  Why do they do this?  Simply stated, because they are adding to the continuity of life, its own life and all of life in general.

Good news is this is hardwired into our brains, this place of surrender and joy.  When you realize you don't have to avoid pain, you don't have to avoid suffering, that there is a light at the end of the tunnel of your suffering, you soon discover you don't even have to look for happiness, because it wells up from within.  Once we have transcended and transformed our suffering and distraction, we can learn to live with the right amount of joy and surrender in our lives.  You're doing this right now just by reading this blog.  There's a certain amount of joy that comes from learning and understanding something new about yourselves.  And, there's a bit of surrender, because I'm sure there's a lot of things you could be doing right now that would probably give you a lot more pleasure than reading my thoughts.  You're giving up a little bit of your pleasure right now in the hopes that it adds something to your life's purpose.  We want to make this moment the rule, not the exception.

As Roman Braun states, "Let the days of suffering and distraction, let that be the exception in your life."  We can fill our lives with meaning and purpose on a daily basis, we just have to want it more than we want suffering.  There is a balance between having the right amount of challenges in our lives and the right amount of joy.  We must find this for ourselves.  We can live meaningful, purposeful lives that adds to the continuity of life.  My challenge to you is to fill every moment of your life with everything you got, don't waste a second.        

Charlie Pacello is a PTSD and Healing Trauma Recovery Expert and Life Coach, a former US Air Force Lieutenant, and creator of the program, 'Lt. Pacello's Life Training Program.'  He can be reached by visiting his website at