Is Human Suffering A Subjective Experience?

The Most Well Known Researcher on Human Suffering

We can reduce our suffering if we have discipline

It is said that one of the reasons Siddhartha Gautam Buddha left home for the forest was because he wanted to explore why we suffer. His whole journey was about wanting to overcome suffering. As the story goes, he was successful in achieving his goal after being in meditation for many years.  His conclusion was that we, as human beings, suffer because we cannot bring ourselves to a point of living when physical and mental suffering is not experienced.  It means that almost all of us can bring ourselves to the point where we can stop suffering physically and mentally.  This belief was the key on which Buddhism was based.

This was all a philosophical issue for me at one time. It was something that was in the realm of “spirituality”. It meant nothing to me in real practical day-to-day life. I was one of those people who was ignorant of what it meant to be free of suffering and what Buddha had stated. Suffering is a part of human life. It has been taught to us by our elders. It is also a common belief in many religious faiths.

 How can one stop “suffering”?

As time and experience has taken hold of my senses, it has dawned to me that there may be truth in what Buddha had stated.

What does it mean by- you can stop your own suffering- statement?

It means that if you and I are in a trauma situation then we will perceive pain based on our personal perceptions. You come from a different background than me. You will experience pain in a different intensity than I. If I come from a deprived, traumatised upbringing, I will experience pain- emotional or physical- more intensely. If you come from a safe, loving upbringing, your perception of pain will be different.

An article was published in Psychology Today, authored by Susanne Babbel PhD. In it she mentions that there is a link between chronic pain, stress and trauma (see reference link below).

When the body experiences trauma, the muscles become tense. Simple day- to- day experiences are enough to create tension in muscles. This tension mounts up as life goes on. We do nothing about it. As this tension increases, it sensitises the body to experience pain. It also lowers the threshold for experiencing pain. A minor traumatic event is then perceived to be painful. 

The body tends to remember trauma. A lady who had had a road traffic accident had pains and aches in exactly the same spots 25 years later when she recalled the experience in therapy. She was under the impression that she had left the event in her past as a closed chapter.

Depending on how much tension someone’s body holds, they will experience physical pain in proportion to that.

What is the solution?

Clear the body’s tension regularly. This can be done by regular physical exercise AND by meditation. Any kind of physical exercise including yoga, tai-chi, walking, aerobics or moderate gym exercises is good.  Meditation relaxes the body and releases the tension. This “relaxation” can also be accumulated over time. When a trauma happens, the body responds by increasing muscular tension because it goes in a defence mode. For a regular meditator, this tension is not enough to be experienced as a painful event. So they experience less hurt.

So Gautam Buddha was right after all. Physical and emotional tension make us more prone to subjectively suffer pain. Release of physical and emotional tension on a regular basis is a must to reduce our suffering. The more tension you carry in your body, the more likely you are likely to suffer physical pain.


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