Primary and secondary suffering

The first thing is to learn to distinguish between primary and secondary suffering.

Primary suffering is any unpleasant physical sensations you may experience as a consequence of illness, injury, fatigue etc.

You may not be able to do anything about this level of suffering and the task is to accept it and make peace with it as best you can.

Secondary suffering is the human anguish we all experience as a reaction to primary suffering: feelings like anger, fear, depression, anxiety and despair that we instinctively pile on top of any unpleasant sensation or event in a dense web of reactivity.

With mindfulness, or awareness, we can learn to modify and reduce these experiences of secondary suffering. This can greatly improve our quality of life, even if the primary suffering remains unchanged, or even worsens.


Vidyamala’s CDs of guided meditations — developed as part of her Breathworks pain management program — are available for sale in our online store.

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