How to Diminish Unnecessary Suffering In Your Life
So many of us create so much extra suffering in our lives than is necessary. We layer negative emotion on top of negative emotion until we feel stuck and overwhelmed. For example, did you know that a breakup don’t have to be so horrible? It’s the way you’re thinking about it that is causing you so much suffering. You can feel sadness and grief of course but you don’t have to go through so much unnecessary suffering.
I want to teach you the concept of clean pain vs. dirty pain and how it can diminish suffering in your life. This applies to any life situation in which you feel some level of loss.
Allow Yourself to Feel Bad
Be willing to just feel your negative feelings. Our brain thinks that negative feelings are dangerous…that we will die. We were wired, as humans, to avoid pain. But the pain we feel in modern life is rarely a threat to our survival…it is usually just emotional pain, which is harmless. No matter how bad it feels, we’re not likely to die. It’s just a sensation in your body caused by chemicals released by our brain…that’s it.
What if you were just willing to feel whatever you were going to feel? There would be nothing left to fear because the worst thing that can happen is a feeling. And you can’t process an emotion until you are willing to feel it fully. You can’t just go around negative emotions and avoid ever having them. You can certainly try, but they will always come back up.
“The only way out is through” – Buddha
You won’t ever be able to change your thoughts in order to change your feeling, until your willing to just feel the negative emotion.
Carry Clean Pain
Clean pain is the kind of pain that you want to feel. “Wait, why would I ever want to feel pain?” Because there are negative emotions that we may actually want to feel. For example, when someone close to you dies, you may want to feel sad. You may want to carry this clean pain with you. This kind of pain usually comes from positive thoughts about the person.
Pain is just part of the full human experience. We are supposed to experience negative emotion half of the time in life. I heard someone say recently that “love and loss are proportionate to each other. We experience loss because we experience love.” So, when we are thinking loving thoughts about someone we’ve lost we feel sad because of the love that is there. This is clean pain.
Also, clean pain tends to flow through you very clearly and can come in waves with the waves diminishing over time. And in between the waves, you’re usually able to still function in your life.
Ditch Dirty Pain
On the other hand, dirty pain feels very dark and gloomy like you’re wading through a thick mist. It can even feel unbearable or make you feel agitated and want to run away to escape. Dirty pain is suffering layered on top of pain. It is suffering that we create with resistance, guilt, shame, self-loathing and other negative emotions when we try to argue with what is (reality).
It comes when we are thinking negative thoughts about ourselves or someone else or about the circumstance in general. DIrty pain comes from these negative thoughts, resistance, and attachment.
“Pain is inevitable but suffering is optional” – Buddha
Let’s take a breakup for example. You may want to feel grief, sadness, and loss when you remember the love that you shared. Give yourself time to sit with your sadness and just feel it. That’s clean pain.
Dirty pain is hating the other person, blaming them for how you feel, arguing with reality about whether or not it should have happened, thinking about how you’ll never find someone else and you’ll die alone. It’s taking it personally and thinking that you’re not good enough…making it mean something about you or about them. Or making it mean something about your past or future. All of those thought patterns are dirty pain.
Dirty pain feels overwhelming, exhausting and heavy. It makes you feel like you can’t function because you’re so exhausted all the time. You feel stuck… like it’s never going to get better because you keep thinking the same negative, self-loathing thoughts.
There are 3 ways we cause ourselves more suffering through dirty pain:
- We resist reality. We think things should be different than they are.
- We attach a negative meaning to the situation. We make it mean something bad about ourselves or the other person. We think that surely it is evidence that something is wrong with us.
- We make it mean something about our future. We make it mean that we won’t have the future that we want, and we give our circumstances all the power to determine our future.
“When you argue with reality, you lose; but only 100% of the time” – Byron Katie
Think about these things the next time you are going through a big transition in your life. It could be the death of a loved one, a breakup, loss of a job, etc. Use these tools to diminish your suffering. You may have to use them more than once, and that’s ok.
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