I read Haruki Murakami’s book, What I Talk About When I Talk About Running, about 7 years ago. I needed a bit – or a LOT – of extra motivation ahead of the Edinburgh Marathon and it definitely delivered.
One of the quotations from that book is so powerful that few people haven’t heard it. It’s written on gym walls and recited by deep voices in YouTube motivational clips. But it’s popular for a reason. Here it is:
“Pain is inevitable. Suffering is optional.”
I’ve been talking a lot about exercise the last few days; and this attitude is a perfect accompaniment to any challenging exercise-related situation.
The pain – the achy legs, arms, feet, chest back; the heart racing, the stomach ache, the feeling that you’re out of breath; the stitch; the shaking limbs; the hot sting of sweat in your eyes – all of this is inevitable. It’s expected.
The suffering, on the other hand, only comes from your mind’s reaction to these physical sensation; the fictitious story that it comes up with to accompany these physical sensations.
Choosing to accept these sensations, whilst distancing yourself mentally from your own inner sob-story, has the potential to completely change your experience of exercise. Or indeed of any situation you apply this to.
In any painful situation, you can make a choice – you can choose to notice that inner sob-story; to step away from these thoughts; to begin to challenge their validity.
You can choose to create a new, powerful story to accompany the sensations of physical or emotional pain. A story of someone who grows through pain and adversity, embracing this as something that only makes them stronger and more courageous.
Or you can choose to have no story at all. And just notice those physical sensations, in the present moment.
Pain isn’t a choice and it’s never easy to deal with. But becoming curious as to the source of this pain, and questioning your brain’s response to it, might just soften the experience.