"Suffering," I once heard, "is the resistance to pain." Not a bad hip-pocket definition, I think.
No one wants to feel pain and yet pain comes calling anyway -- mental pain, physical pain, whatever kind of pain. Whole industries (pharmaceutical, for example) revolve around the human distaste for pain. And yet no industry has found the perfect answer, the perfect barrier, the perfect eraser of pain... or, if they have, the suppression of pain requires the suppression of other aspects of life that are pleasing.
"Feelin' no pain," says the drunk who cannot walk in a straight line or drive safely.
In sports and Zen Buddhism, I have heard the fortune cookie observation, "no pain, no gain," meaning you'll never get anywhere without some serious effort. But I always liked to turn that equation around: If "no pain" equals "no gain," then "no gain" must also equal "no pain."
With a little attention, I think that what is gained in life is also a matter of resistance. Gain implies something else can be attained ... and more important, held onto. When all things change, how does holding on to anything make much sense and in this sense is a resistance to life ... and suffering is bound to arise.
Pain ... I wonder what makes anyone (me to) assume that pain is bad or unnecessary or somehow not part of the picture. Anyone who suggests that another perspective on pain might be warranted is likely to run into a meat grinder of social dissent: "What are you -- some kind of masochist?"
But who is really the masochist -- the one who tries to escape from what is inescapably part of life or the one who makes some effort to accord with life? To accord with life doesn't mean people can't say "ouch!" when hitting a thumb with a hammer. It doesn't mean pretending to be immune from sadness. Ouch is ouch. Sad is sad.
In Zen practice, students sit down, often cross-legged, and focus their minds. Naturally, the body feels pain when confined to any prolonged stillness. Sometimes there is a howling thought or two -- "I can't do this! I can't stand this! I hate this!" But Zen students keep doing zazen, keep doing meditation, despite the yowls and despite the social skepticism ... "What are you, some kind of masochist?!"
The usefulness of this effort, however painful, is that it teaches students to address, rather than flee, what is clearly part of their lives -- pain. However much they might like to escape, still, when they do escape, pain comes calling in some revised form. And it is probably worth finding out how this endless fleeing into a 'better' condition simply never works perfectly, never assures a pain-free life.
Who is the one who hopes against hope that things will become pain-free? Who is the one who resists and resists what is clearly a part of life -- life in general and life in very-personal particular? No need to become a Stoic or some kind of gloomy Gus or some kind of zombie. But just to investigate what we long for without success ... well, it might be worthwhile. Suffering and uncertainty aren't much fun.
No gain, no pain.