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Pain Is Inevitable, Suffering is Optional

Audio (Previous part of the Laughing Lama in the Library series)


“Pain is inevitable, suffering is optional.” Thích Nhất Hạnh


Pain is something we are all going to experience many times in our lives. Pain is momentary, pain is change, and pain is an attention seeker (for good reason). 

“Pain is the indication that something is not quite right and needs investigation,” Lopön Charlotte Rotterdam.

When we turn away from pain, block pain, or try to soothe it away with vices, we cause more suffering in our lives.

Suffering is our reaction to pain. It takes many forms. Inward forms can be shame-spirals and self-loathing. Outward forms can be anger and violence. Blocking forms can be ignoring it or stuffing it down with food, alcohol, or drugs.

One way to look at the pain that we’re not actively dealing with is to think of pain wrapped in the center of a yarn ball. (Thanks again to Lopon Charlotte for this visual). Taking your pain and then wrapping a yarn strand of I-don’t-have-time-for-this-right-now. Then another yarn strand of why-did-they-do-this-to-me. Yet another yarn strand of wine-will-help. Over time you get a big ball of yarn with different threads of suffering, and who knows how many have tangled themselves together! 

Suffering is the great twisted yarn ball that is trying to soften our pain, but really, it’s just making it a bigger mess to deal with. 

So what is a way out of this?    

Instead, if we turn toward the pain and look at it with compassion, we lessen our suffering. If before we wrap it we recognize, “Oh, this is pain,” and, to quote to most life-scaring movie ever made – E.T. (I’ll explain some other time), you look at this pain, and you say, “Ouch.” You acknowledge that pain hurts. You also acknowledge that this, too, shall pass.

Turn towards the pain and see what it’s there to teach you. What is the reason this hurt you? Is it something your body or mind is trying to tell you? Is it a trigger for another hurt you haven’t dealt with? 

Is there something you can do about the pain right then and there? If there isn’t something you can do about it, acknowledge that you see and feel the pain, you value bringing it to your attention, and then rest. It is what it is, and it will pass. Or it will tell you what you can do about it when it’s ready… but you have to be willing to listen and not silence it with strands of yarn.  


It’s weird to say that thoughts on pain bring me happiness, but in reality, it’s one of the many things we all have in common. 

Pain is something we all experience. In the Buddhist practice I’m learning about, pain is connected to the “Ground of Being.” It’s the metaphorical soil we are all connected to, that we all walk on, that we all rest on. 

Pain of childbirth brings a new life into this world. Pain in the loss of a loved one brings us closer together to celebrate the time we do have with each other. Pain is something we’ll experience before we die. 

Pain is something that brings us together in our shared ground of being. Suffering tries to bind us up and keeps us from connecting. 


Star Wars: Episode II: Attack of the Clones

“Pain, suffering, death I feel. Something terrible has happened. Young Skywalker is in pain. Terrible pain.”— Yoda



This seed was in a Lama Live session spoken by Lopön Charlotte Rotterdam on May 22. (LINK) Lama Live is a weekly live stream from the Tara Mandala Center Facebook page & YouTube Channel.

Lopön Charlotte Rotterdam was answering the question, “How can we use suffering to improve our spiritual path?”



Thích Nhất Hạnh was a Vietnamese  Zen Master, leader, author,  poet, teacher, peace activist, and founder of the Plum Village Tradition ( quote may not be originated by Thích Nhất Hạnh, as the words have a long history in Buddhism;, however it was attributed to him in this event.

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