If resistance is the cause of suffering then why were given it as an instinctive reaction tool?

nancy pro's picture

Average: 4.6 (13 votes)

People are asking me: if resistance to pain is the cause of our suffering then how come it evolved to be our natural reaction, our basic instinct, when we encounter pain?

The answer is the same answer to almost all our misfortunate behaviors: misuse and overuse.

Resistance to pain is an important survival tool, if used in the right place and for the right purpose.

We were given the instinct to resist pain, the ability to suppress pain, for tactical short-term survival purposes. When our leg is broken or we feel depressed and suddenly a mean tiger shows up and starts chasing us then yes, suppressing our mental and physical pains is essential so that we could jump on our broken leg, depressed as we temporarily are, and run run run.

Evolving to be completely mechanical and unaware, our instincts took over us and we are operating according to them in all circumstances like automatic machines. Consequently, we are applying the short-term resistance-to pain tool as a long-term strategy for every life case. When we are doing so, we misuse and overuse this short-term survival tool for a purpose it was not designed for.

A survival tool, by its nature, is designed to serve instinctively and rapidly with a sudden brute force of energy. Consequently, it can be used only for short-term purposes as it exhausts our energy very rapidly. Using it for long-term purposes depletes us completely from energy, calls for conflict and counterbalance mechanisms and thus only strengthen the mind and thus the suffering.

Use resistance when you are running away from a tiger or in case of some other immediate danger. Otherwise, accept, observe, and drop resistance.

Phroggy's picture

My suffering theory

Hi Nancy
Yes, the instinct that assists in our survival is spontaneous and highly focussed on what is occurring now. The resistance that results in suffering is not a spontaneous response to now but a reaction to an imagined past or future. We suffer an injury, emotional or physical, and go into the past to find blame and guilt or into the future to imagine horrible consequences. The mind and body respond the same way to these imagined events as they do to the real events and so we find ourselves in a perpetual state of emergency and tension in spite of the fact that there is no emergency happening. This is suffering and it's formed by projecting the 'me' identity outside of what is happening in the present moment.

As far as the short term resistance to pain tool, pain is defined as something we don't want and so resistance is a foregone conclusion even before it is labeled pain. Pain is not defined by the physical sensation or it's intensity, but rather by the mind's response to it. We call it pain BECAUSE we resist it. Hencely, resistance to short term pain is not a tool and doesn't actually serve us in any way or assist in our survival.

What you call short term resistance to pain, is really a shift of focus in the mind brought on by a change in priorities. Since mental resistance is what results in pain as opposed to sensation, if the focus of the mind is distracted, there is no more resistance. We can see this in cases where one is suffering, and a friend tells a joke, and for a moment the mind is distracted and forgets to create the suffering. Of course, it quickly realizes this and gets back to the suffering, but it demonstrates that suffering is a focus of mind that must be maintained or suffering can't continue.

While it's true that a hungry tiger may make it possible to run on a broken leg, it's really a matter of mental prioritizing and not survival as such. If you're limping home after being sideswiped by a car, and you notice your house being bulldozed, you may temporarilly forget about your limp even though it is not a matter of survival that your house is being torn down. It's simply a matter of mental priorities.

Phroggy | Mon, 09/29/2008 - 08:08
Omkaradatta's picture

Not a theory

I don't find that one to be a theory at all, but a very clear statement of truth.

P.S. I find that resistance to pain perpetuates it enormously. The other day I bit into my lip while chewing a piece of gum, and instead of thinking about the pain my mind went off it immediately (you could call it spontaneous non-resistance, if ya like). The pain vanished just as quickly, and there was no lingering sensation at all. You could say short-term pain is a 'call to attention', but once attention is there it seems the call is over as soon as attention drops.


Omkaradatta | Mon, 09/29/2008 - 08:47
Phroggy's picture

Okay, I might be done with the theory silliness

Yes, the connection between mental resistance and suffering can easily be demonstrated by anybody who wants to try it. I've reduced or eliminated pain in many situations that normally would have called for some drugs. If the mind can just drop it, as you describe, that's great. For most, it would take a fairly major distraction, so an alternative is to keep the focus on the pain, but invite it instead of resisting it. See if you can increase it somehow and make it really really hurt. To the extent this can be done, the pain will ease because welcoming it is the removal of resistance, and there isn't any pain hiding behind the resistance, just the resistance itself.

All of this is important to notice because it has implications for the totality of our suffering. Ego 'voluntarilly' projecting stuff into the past and future is the only cause of suffering, and it serves no purpose to do so. Hencely, we cause our own suffering for no reason. Stay here and now with whatever is here with you, and there is no suffering.

Phroggy | Mon, 09/29/2008 - 09:06
Quantum's picture

So..it's okay to hate?

“If the mind can just drop it, as you describe, that's great.”

I agree. I doubt that the majority of us can simply flip a switch and be fully realized and enlightened beings. If that were true, Buddhists monks meditating for 10-20 years are wasting an awful lot of time. The (spiritual) growth process seems to follow more an evolution as I see it. Similar to starting at preschool and working your way through to college. Instead of just flipping a switch while in Preschool and suddenly having PHD in the next moment.

“For most, it would take a fairly major distraction,….”

I agree.

“…so an alternative is to keep the focus on the pain, but invite it instead of resisting it.”

Question for you:
While “cleaning house” vipassana style innerbody awareness scan, I noticed some ugly junk buried within.

Wondering how that junk got there, the word “Repressed” came to mind. Contemplating futher, I realized that as a Christian (the Roman Catholic variety) I have practiced “repression” and “pushing away”, “not allowing,” in regards to emotions that I felt were contrary to a Holy and Pure Christlike like life—specifically emotions such as Hatred. Funny how reacting against one emotions creates a variety of offshoot emotions, such as Grief (for feeling hatred), self pity while wallowing in the physical pain of not allowing Hate to flow freely, and sinking into a reactive pattern of self pity.

You get the idea.

My question:
Are you suggesting that as long as I do it with full consciousness, and awareness, if I feel a surge of hate for someone, I should just permit that feeling, and allow myself to enjoy the pleasure of feeling that hate?

Instead of …say, reacting Catholicly and feeling “guilty” about feeling hate?

Is it okay to hate?

Quantum | Sun, 01/03/2010 - 21:14
Quantum's picture

Or....you were only talking about physical pain?

Perhaps you were only talking specifically about physical pain and how to handle it.

Let me rephrase my question then:

How do you deal with a negative emotion such as hate, once it is already there inside you?

Quantum | Mon, 01/04/2010 - 05:09
enlight's picture

mental pains as well

The first paragraph is true also for mental pains. Same same also for the post.

The second paragraph however is a simplistic and superficial attempt to explain the first paragraph a la concept of "here and now". It says nothing really.

enlight | Mon, 01/04/2010 - 08:10
Annie's picture

human tragedy

Humans always take things to the extreme, always from selfish motives and always resulting in the opposite to their original intention - hurting themselves. A tragedy.

It's true about mental resistance, it is true about sex, it is true about eating, it is true about achieving, and it is even true about the spiritual quest.

Thanks god the animals and plants are more sensitive and balanced.

Annie | Wed, 11/26/2008 - 05:31
carlito santo's picture

paranoia as a normal state

Most or shall I dare to say all of the habitual automatic reaction patterns of the mind fall into this category. I think the reason for this overuse is that fear is our normal state - we are neurotic and paranoid but everybody is so, therefore we do not recognize it as a problem. Being in such a state by default no wonder we feel compelled to activate all our stock of defensive mechanisms to the extreme, there is an other and all others are enemies or potential enemies.

To be convinced that there is no other is only on the intellectual level and this is not transformative. To drop fear, on the other hand, of these perceived as others is possible by accepting this fear and observing it and then ignoring it and in this way letting it go.

carlito santo | Sun, 01/11/2009 - 22:33
Phroggy's picture

Well said

Yes, the fear patterns and lifelong defense mechanisms (mostly unconscious) are deeply ingrained and 'normal' by definition. Normalcy, in this case, is a state of insanity and inevitable suffering.

Phroggy | Mon, 01/12/2009 - 01:21