May you not shrink away from the pain of the past
Duḥkha (दुःख) means all forms of pain, from the stubbing of your little toe to your grief over the loss of a loved one. Society teaches us to use any means necessary to get what we want, but excelling in personal fulfilment does not prepare us for the impermanence of life, the grief of loneliness, and the inevitability of death. Pain is part of the finite continuity of your life and cannot be avoided, but suffering can. Sorrow, anger, grief, or hurt cannot exist in isolation, they are brought on by some one, some experience, or some feeling. Beneath your fragile sense of personal identity, your real self can only exist as as a disconnected, fragmented, and dispersed set of characteristics that coalesce in myriad different ways from moment to moment. Even when you deny the transitory nature of your self, there is always the pain of awareness between the gaps of ego-consciousness. And since you cannot be what you wish to be, at least not always, your actions, thoughts, and feelings as they arise from moment to moment seem alien to you, causing you pain or the perpetual fear that results from repressed knowledge of pain. But if you keep running away from the things that are painful to contemplate, you paradoxically end up inviting more pain into your life as you try to stem every avenue by which pain my seep back into your life. And when memory is so deeply intertwined with language, words themselves seem to conjure up painful memories. Certain trigger words bring up entire sets of images and feelings from the past that were associated with pain, humiliation, or shame. The words—specifically the labels—that you give to the thing that is “pain” characterise it a certain way: a thing to be shunned and avoided. Similarly, pleasure becomes the thing to be coveted and pursued. It is perception that brings on these feelings and characterisations, but they are all mental fabrications or citta saṅkhāra (चित्त संस्कार), the labels that the mind gives to things—pleasure or pain, good or bad, liked or disliked, loved or feared. If there were no labels for these things that occur naturally in the psyche, then they would merely exist equally, as facts. You are not separate from your pain and it cannot be the thing that causes you to suffer. You are the pain, you cause the suffering. You cannot brush it aside. Making space for pain allows you to overcome it, not by vanquishing it, but by accepting it as part of yourself. When you include pain in your life, it no longer has such a hold over you. Instead of running away from pain, if you turn to face it, it reveals itself as a reflection of your own naked vulnerability, bereft of the stories that you previously used as diversions and the judgements that suppressed your own raw emotions.