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Suffering is ALWAYS Optional

  • Elliott
  • September 6, 2011
  • 2

Being Human can be Painful, Suffering is an Option

One of my favorite teachings from A Course in Miracles is the simple reminder, “Instead of this I can choose peace.”

I am convinced that most human suffering occurs because people do not understand that peace is a choice. Peace is always available. All suffering is either a result of wanting something other than what “is” or anxiety about some imagined future.

I have a close friend who always argues with me about this. She insists that suffering is simply a result of being human. I will never be able to agree with this. Just look at any condition which causes some people to suffer and you will find examples of others with the same conditions that make different choices.

Chronic pain is a great example. Fibromyalgia is quite prevalent in our society right now. There are some people who suffer profoundly with this painful condition, spending whole days in bed, unable to even find the energy to get up and get dressed. Many others experience the pain, but refusing to give into it, move through their days, rejoicing in the moments when the pain is not as great. Some suffer, some make another choice.

I had a good friend who died of ALS or Lou Gehrig’s disease. This young man had the best attitude of anyone, with a terminal prognosis, I have ever met. Despite this fast moving illness, which continually claimed ownership over his bodily functions, he never wavered from his happy attitude. Most of us would consider this to be suffering, but I swear the people in his life suffered more than he did. He chose to be joyous every moment he was capable.

I could go on listing examples, but it would really serve no purpose, for those who accept suffering, as inevitable, will never hear me. No words will change their mind. My truth is that suffering is always a choice. I fully believe, and have demonstrated dozens of times in my own life, that I always have the ability to choose peace instead of suffering. All of the suffering, I have ever endured, came as a result of my inability or unwillingness to get my mind off the object of my suffering.    Worry Creates Suffering

There were several periods, in my life, in which I suffered with Migraine Headaches. I had classic migraines which came in clusters. After years of trial and error, I learned that when I was in one of these cluster periods there were certain stimulants that would result in these severe headaches, and that by avoiding these catalysts, I could greatly reduce the frequency of these debilitating incidents. I never did fully understand why the clusters began, but when I knew I was in one of those periods, I suffered in my fear of these headaches, which often occurred four or more times in a twenty-four hour period. Twenty years into this repeated cycle I finally learned that my willingness to suffer, whenever I was in one of these cluster periods, was also a catalyst for more frequent headaches. So, I began to change my thinking. Instead of being paralyzed in dread about the next headache, I rejoiced in the time I had between events. Soon, the frequency of the headaches began to diminish. Eventually, the length of the cluster periods grew shorter and shorter, and finally about twelve years ago, I stopped having them altogether.

No one would have convinced me that I had a choice about whether or not I suffered with my headaches. No one could have made me believe that my suffering was optional. It was only too apparent that the severity of the headaches was what created the suffering, but life proved to me that it was my thinking about the headaches which created the suffering, not the headaches themselves. There is a huge difference between experiencing pain and wallowing in suffering. Suffering intensifies pain. Pain, in and of itself, cannot create suffering. The suffering is always a byproduct of the choice to dwell on the pain. I have had to learn this lesson more than once in my life.

Human life does and probably always will include experience with pain. How we react to that pain determines whether or not we will suffer. Most of the suffering I have ever experienced was a result of my desire to control areas of my life, over which I had little or no control. Most of my suffering has been created by a mind which wants what it wants and my attachment to those desires. Learning that “Instead of this, I can choose Peace!” set me free from most of my suffering. Today, even in the midst of an emotional hijack, I need only remember that lesson, and I can choose to think different thoughts than those which create anguish.

My life experience has proven to me that choosing peace works. For those, out there, who insist that this is not true, I would suggest giving it a open-minded try. All of our truths are based on what life has shown us. Many of our unexamined truths are simply wrong.


  1. Thank you Elliott. What a great reminder. I am reminded of the Buddhist Noble Truth – life is suffering – if we choose. I sometimes have the belief it is – and I chose again. One in Spirit, Gayla

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