I believe those who practice mindfulness or meditation will not be shocked by the contents of this post. I for one could really benefit from a bit of the former, the latter, or both and yet I’ve struggled for years with sustaining any forward momentum with either practice.
I’ve purchased books (because spending money will make me more likely to read them, right?), gone to guided meditation sessions, joined a 4-week mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR) program and downloaded the ‘Calm’ app (amongst others) and enjoyed the fleeting sense of control that comes with being on a 30-day ‘streak’ as if being on a ‘roll’ was supposed to help sustain future practice and benefits.
Suffice to say, I haven’t found anything that works for me, and this despite being in the close orbit of two family members who honed their daily practice over several decades. My dad, who is no longer with us, was one of the two. I have many fond memories of my dad, but the that’s most relevant here is his calm demeanour in spite of the challenges he encountered in his life. I am not suggesting that my dad did not have his moments of frustration or anger or that he did not experience pain or suffering; I am just suggesting that it’s not how I remember my dad. He always seemed calm, cool and collected to me.
One of the many things one of my therapists reminded me of during our many recent conversations was about the link between pain, resistance and suffering. I loved her take on it.
Why? Because it was a math formula, of course!
Pain x Resistance = Suffering.
My dad LOVED math, he graduated from the University of Waterloo with a degree in Math no less. I like to think that my love for numbers came from my dad. I sometimes wish that my love for numbers came with a knack for grounding myself. Alas… it did not and so I need to put in some work here.
Why do I love this formula exactly and what the heck am I going on about? Patience Baby Yoda.
Let’s start with some basics before we delve in. The formula logically (I love logic) suggests that suffering is the result of the amount of pain we endure multiplied by how much we resist that pain. Put another way, there are only two variables that determine our level of suffering in this world: pain and resistance. Reducing either will have a direct beneficial impact on our suffering. So naturally my brain goes to “let’s reduce the amount of pain” but we all know this to be a futile exercise. The only work we can put in to reduce suffering is the work on reducing our resistance to the pain. How do we reduce our resistance to pain you say? That’s where the hard work begins.
So now that your juices are flowing, let’s start climbing (the real fun for any true cyclist). In my opinion the key piece to this equation isn’t in the equation at all (weird right?). What I’m talking about is the WHY. WHY am I in pain? Why am I suffering? I have been thinking about my ability to endure pain a lot since listening to Viktor E. Frankl’s book “Man’s Search for Meaning” a number of years back. It truly is an inspirational read/listen and I highly recommend it for anyone struggling with pain and suffering.
One of my key takeaways from Mr. Frankl’s book was his view that we can endure almost any amount of pain and suffering with an appropriate reason for why we are enduring it. Before anyone get’s too upset with me, I will say upfront that I am not looking to compare the amount of pain and suffering in my life, or anyone who has MS for that matter, with the pain and suffering from the events described by Mr. Frankl. What I am interested in talking about is the importance of the why in our lives as a means to reduce our resistance to pain.
For me, this means continuing the work to focus on my why, my purpose. While I have endured a lot of pain in the past few months dealing with my MS relapse and the associated mental health issues, this project has really helped sharpen my focus on why I am enduring this pain and, in my opinion, has led to a reduction in the amount of suffering I have endured. It has given me hope and I intend to spread that on my journey across the country.
Je t’aime papa