I saw this quote on Twitter today, and it resonated with me, so I thought I’d share it and write about it here:

Pain is inevitable. Suffering is optional. Joy is a choice. What do YOU choose?

My first thought was “of course, I choose JOY!” and my second was something like “wouldn’t anybody?”  But sometimes that’s easier said than done, isn’t it?  Especially when life brings us the inevitable pain that we as human beings are bound to experience.  Sometimes that pain is physical, sometimes it’s emotional, sometimes it’s both.

Pain is inevitable.

Pain is real, it’s tangible, and for some people it never, ever goes away.  Sometimes pain is small, like a paper cut or a stubbed toe, sometimes it’s huge and traumatic, such as injuries sustained in a horrible car wreck.  Sometimes pain diminishes as the minor injury heals, sometimes it digs in, hangs on and refuses to let go.  I don’t pretend to know or understand that kind of pain, and I must say that I’m thankful it’s something I’ve never experienced first-hand.  But I know people who live with it on a daily basis, who struggle to cope with formerly easy tasks, and who fight with their friends, families and doctors in an attempt to be heard and understood and, often, believed.

Pain is a uniquely individual experience, and I’ve found that for me, emotional pain lasts much longer than physical pain.  Those of us who have known the loss of a loved one through death or break-up or just time growing two people apart know how deep that pain can go, and how long it can last.  Some choose to manage their pain privately, not allowing themselves to be vulnerable, while others transform their entire beings into one large, loud expression of that pain.

Suffering is optional.

What a thought.  The Buddhists believe that all of life is suffering.  I’m still trying to wrap my head around that one, even while I get tiny glimpses of understanding about what that means.  I’m not a Buddhist, although I certainly have a great deal of admiration and respect for their beliefs and practices.  I think that in some ways, Suffering is a mind set – a state of being – that we can, to a certain degree, choose to turn off.  The power of the mind is immense, and we can learn to harness it to rise above our Suffering.  I think Suffering happens when we allow ourselves to be controlled by our pain.

This means that we can learn to manage and alleviate our pain; this means that even though the experience of pain is inevitable in this life, it’s possible to make a choice to stay in control, to live a life filled with Joy and Love and Purpose in spite of pain.

Will we still have days where we hurt? Yes, and as I get older I’m realizing that physical discomfort is more and more a part of how I live.  Playing the cello makes physical demands on my body that are getting less and less easy to ignore.  I have joints (knees and hips, most notably) that ache a lot more than they used to.  Occasionally a headache sends me to bed in a quiet, darkened room for hours at a stretch.

Joy is a Choice.

I firmly believe this.  Pain will be inevitable.  Anger and dismay at events around me seem to be inevitable (at least they are if I’m paying any attention, and it’s hard NOT to be aware of events unfolding recently at Penn State or at Occupy Wall Street).  Fear of an unknown future as a self-employed woman who wants both to provide material security for my children AND to give them a good example that it’s possible to live their dreams could cripple me.

But I choose Joy.  I found myself yelling at a woman in traffic yesterday – I was in the right lane and she was in the left lane, and both lanes were turning RIGHT; she turned into MY lane, and if I hadn’t been paying attention, she would have plowed right into me.  My temper flared, I yelled and cursed and waved my hands (she was apparently oblivious to this whole thing) for about 30 seconds before I consciously calmed myself down and sent thoughts of peace and safety in her direction (and mine!).  I got angry, but I didn’t wish to be controlled by my anger, so I let it go.

I know it’s not always easy, and there are many situations in my life where it’s a struggle to maintain that Center of Joy.  Dealing with someone who is chronically depressed and who seems to want to drag me down into those depths makes it very difficult.  Trying to spread the message of Joy and Choice to deaf ears not ready or willing to hear or accept the message makes it very difficult. Sometimes I have to breathe deeply and evenly and focus all of my energy into a calmer place, reminding myself that I choose Joy – over and over and over again.

No, it’s not easy, but it IS simple.  Choose Joy.  Every day, every hour, sometimes every moment.  Make it a conscious choice until it becomes a part of who you are, how you live.

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