An old Buddhist saying goes ‘Pain is mandatory, suffering is optional.’ At first glance, that saying appears to be a koan – a statement that isn’t internally consistent. How can one be in pain and not suffer?
A runner training for a marathon is in pain. But since her mind is open to the idea of the burn she feels in her thigh muscles, she doesn’t suffer.
Working parents, who have to balance their jobs with child rearing, are often in pain. But whether or not they suffer depends on their outlook towards raising their children.
Monks and stoics often experience hunger, cold and the other hardships of living a frugal life. However, since their mind is open to these experiences, they don’t suffer as much.
A pre-requisite for suffering is to be closed to the idea of a hard or painful experience. On the flipside, being open to a painful experience serves as immunization against suffering.