Hurt More. Suffer Less.

There is a strange paradox that I’ve noticed in my own mindfulness practice over the years.

Surprisingly, at least to me, lots of stuff hurts more.

You would think it wouldn’t. But it does.

The interesting, unadvertised piece is this:

There is less suffering, even while you feel more pain.

My own sense of this, from personal experience is, the less stickiness one has to the sense of self, the less pain feels like “my” pain, and the less identification one has with what hurts.

(Ken Wilber, the philosopher, writer and somewhat of a paradox himself, has a great little video on this somewhere on the inter webs that explains this with words, better than I — so I won’t try)

Interestingly though, there is some really good recent science on why this happens, and how meditative adepts, or contemplative “athletes” of the most elite variety, (typically mediators/monks with over 25,000 hours of lifetime practice) actually show this to be true, in a more scientific setting.

Essentially, in brain monitoring expeirments, they feel more pain, as measured by changes in the “pain circuitry” of the brain, when certain stimulus is being applied.

But they don’t revisit the pain, when the pain is over. (ouch — that fucking hurt! Like the rest of us do — for minutes, hours or even days thereafter)

They also don’t think about the impending pain…..when they know it’s coming. (in 10 seconds, this is going to fucking hurt.! Why did I agree to this damn test?)

They simply feel the pain when its painful. And when it’s not — they are back to baseline. (which is, for many of these fine folks, apparently somewhere on the spectrum of bliss)

One of the Buddha’s great teachings, on the nature of pain and suffering, was the problem of the “second arrow”.

A monk, minding his own business, gets hit in the side by a stray arrow. He now has a problem. (an arrow stuck to his side 🙂

But when the medic arrives (were there medics in the Buddha’s time? Who knows? I’m a blogger in pajamas at 3pm, not a theological or historical scholar, silly) — the monk is equally as concerned about WHO shot the arrow, why HE got shot (rather than another innocent monk) , how will he ever feel comfortable riding in the forest ever again……and why BAD SHIT always happens to him?

This is the suffering borne of the second arrow.

You can remove the first one. But the second one, which never really landed, that one tends to stick.

You won’t meditate your way out of feeling the pain.

But you may suffer less. And I’d argue, maybe WAY less.

And that feels like a tradeoff well worth the taking.

Originally published at on October 16, 2017.

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