Suffering = Pain x Resistance

Nov 18, 2022

Have you ever found yourself suffering over some external circumstance that you have no control over? If you want to lighten your load, consider dropping the resistance. There is this lovely formula that I first heard from the wonderful Mindfulness and Self-Compassion author and researcher Shauna Shapiro. She described teaching at a multi-day retreat for meditation teachers where everyone was mindful, thoughtful, and kind. On the way to the airport, she decided to stop by Whole Foods to grab a snack. When she went to check out, the woman in front of her had too many items for the aisle, and she couldn’t find her debit card, etc. In other words, she was holding up the line. Shauna talks about how her brain immediately went into story mode: “this is ridiculous,” “I’m going to miss my flight,” “can’t she count; the limit is 15 items,” etc. When she noticed what she was doing, she laughed at herself, dropped the stress, breathed, and reminded herself that she teaches this stuff for a living. She talked about how the pain of waiting was a 10, but she multiplied it by 100 with her resistance. That’s a lot of unnecessary suffering over a few extra minutes at the grocery store.

Now, most of us, when we’re suffering from things that “shouldn’t be so,” it’s bigger than the line at the grocery store; it could be an adult child with an addiction or a family member who doesn’t pull their weight, or a layoff. It’s sometimes little stuff, but it can be big stuff.

How might you notice where your resistance to the circumstances is multiplying your pain? What might you do to play with acceptance rather than resistance? Acceptance doesn’t mean that you like the circumstances or can’t still work to change those things within your control. Acceptance means that you drop the resistance to the facts before you. Easier said than done, but worth a try. Remember this formula this week suffering = pain x resistance and notice where you are multiplying your pain unnecessarily.