It was somewhere around kilometer 80 of 102 that a phrase popped up in my head. I was running a flat section of the Tarawera Ultramarathon beside one of the many lakes in the Rotorua region of New Zealand. Both knees were hurting, my left quad was getting tight, and the last heat of the day was still lingering in the air. So what, I thought, I refuse to suffer.
I looked around me at a landscape punctuated with soft green mountains, a near cloudless summer sky, and the beautiful blue lake I was running alongside. I listened to the laughter of people enjoying their day swimming and picnicking by the lakeside. I looked inside myself. I was hurting, but my legs still felt strong and I had plenty of energy. There was no need to suffer.
There is a saying that pain is inevitable but suffering is optional. No matter how hard we may try, pain, whether it be physical, mental, or emotional, is an unavoidable part of life. However, we do have agency over how we react to it. Pain can narrow our vision, preventing us from seeing the positive aspects of our lives. This is where suffering arises: when we let the pain define who we are instead of accepting it as only one facet of our current experience.
Running long distances is a guaranteed way to put this concept to the test. Sooner or later, the pain will come. When it does I can either create suffering by fixating about it, or I can decide to accept it for what it is: a temporary condition that I don’t have to let color the rest of my experience.
What is causing you pain right now? Are you allowing it to cause you suffering? Can you meet your pain with acceptance and equanimity? If so, it is possible to find freedom from suffering because of it.