climbing a mountain

The Buddha’s central teaching has succinctly been summarized by American mediation teacher Shinzen Young in the mathematical formula “pain times resistance = suffering.” When we resist pain, it leads to suffering proportionate to our resistance. When we don’t respond with resistance there is no suffering. How is this possible? According to mathematical principles, anything multiplied by zero is zero. Therefore, if we apply no resistance to pain, we experience no suffering.

The Importance of Pain

Picture placing your hand on a hot stove as a child. You feel the pain, and you immediately and instinctively back away from the stove. You quickly learn the lesson that hot stoves are not to be touched, and you’ll never make the same mistake again. Now imagine that you resisted that physical pain. You fooled yourself into believing you didn’t get burned, and it doesn’t hurt, and the stove wasn’t that hot in the first place. You put on such a good performance that the next time you see a hot stove, you touch it again, because you never learned the lesson. You’ll get burned and burned again until you abandon resistance.

Emotional pain works similarly. When we go through a breakup, or get fired, or lose a loved one, we have the same two choices. We can process the pain, observe it, let it pass, and learn from it, or we can resist it. Pain tells us something is wrong, but unless we are open to it, we will never comprehend the message it is trying to send.

How Resistance Impacts Emotions

When we experience emotional pain, there can often be a response of resistance as a defensive mechanism. Resistance can be a temporarily useful strategy to gain control, but it prevents us from processing the pain and moving forward in a constructive manner. When we deny the existence of pain, we cause ourselves suffering. The more we resist, the more we suffer. Our response has no impact on the pain experienced, but it directly correlates to our suffering.

Open Receptivity

This is why it is important to practice radical acceptance. When we accept that the hurtful and painful are as valid and meaningful as the pleasant and the joyous, we will be rewarded with more complete and fulfilled experiences. This is a philosophy that advocates saying “yes” to what we experience, instead of responding with resistance. Say yes to your breakup. Say yes to losing your job. Say yes to the death of a loved one. When you acknowledge these events as being real, you also accept your emotional pain as real and valid. From there, you can move forward in a healthy and open way without suffering.

Pain is inevitable, but suffering is optional. Schedule an appointment with your Ottawa therapist to learn more about the relation between pain, resistance, and suffering.