Contrary to common belief, pain and suffering are not the same thing: pain is in the body; suffering is in the mind. But, there is a relationship between the two: suffering is the result of the mind’s response to pain. My first dharma teacher, Shinzen Young, presented a teaching that has helped me to differentiate pain from suffering and to better understand their relationship. This teaching was presented in the form of a mathematical equation.
The equation is: Su=PR2 or Su = P x R x R.
Su symbolizes the word Suffering; P represents the word Pain; and R stands for Resistance. “Suffering is equal to Pain times Resistance squared.”
This is being provided as a teaching point and is not intended to be an objective scientific formula. Suffering, Pain and Resistance can be subjectively measured; however at the present time I know of no objective measurement for these qualities.
From this formula we see that Pain and Suffering are not identical; they are represented by two different symbols. Secondly, we see that Suffering increases when Pain increases; and it increases even more when Resistance increases. We see that Resistance is a greater contributing factor to suffering than is Pain: Resistance increases Suffering exponentially.
If we were to reduce P by ½ then we would reduce Su by ½ as well. But if we were to reduce R by ½ then we would reduce Su to ¼ its original amount. Decreasing pain can alleviate suffering but decreasing resistance alleviates suffering even more effectively.
So what is resistance and how do we decrease it?
Resistance is any attempt to obstruct or restrict the experience of life as it unfolds in each moment. Resistance can appear in the body as chronic tension; it can appear in the mind as anger, fear or condemnation. Resistance can appear in many other ways in both mind and body.
Much of our resistance is unconscious; we are not aware of it. To reduce it we must first become aware of it. If we can become aware of it without “resisting the resistance” then it will eventually dissipate. It’s also helpful to set the intention to relax and to be open to whatever arises in the present moment.
Releasing resistance means freedom from suffering, even if pain is present. It takes diligence and patience but the fruit of our practice is awakening to a life of true freedom!