Suffering is universal. It allows the pain that tells humans and other animals when to flee or fight. It records powerfully upon the memory and allows organisms to avoid future pain through the learning process. But suffering is also a human creation when it is mental and emotional, and collected by societies as cultural conflicts.
This second kind of pain is unique. It is suffering that exists in the abstract. In reality, this is the suffering most human beings have to contend with that other organisms do not. This type of suffering is about the past: regret, painful memory, loss, or the future: worry, anxiety, lack of confidence, fear of unknown. Only those primates with so much cerebral power that they can store mental abstractions are prone to this type of suffering. All these emotions are affected by what people believe.
Of the two types of suffering, the second one which is abstraction, is the only one which people can truly become empowered to affect. As organisms existing in nature, all will have pain and loss, but as mental abstractionists, only humans can affect the power of awareness over needless anxiety, regret and such related suffering. In Buddhism it is tied to want, the belief that having, or wanting something, causes pain, as does of course obtaining it, as then a new pain begins.
People, in this kind of created suffering, are subject to destructive mental complexities. They are able to tune out the senses of the natural world, and isolate within ideas of modernity. Inventions such as money, mortgages, politics and more, keep people disconnected from the natural world in which humanity evolved. Our suffering today is exacerbated by war, pollution, toxins and trash, all human invented problems that further create suffering in the larger world.
This kind of suffering, is quite different than the very in the moment suffering our forebears had. They had short, often brutal lives. They had no protection from diseases and injury as modern peoples have in the modern application. Although they had pain, they did not have complex, abstract and conceptually based suffering. That came with big brains that could store memory, ideas, and worry.
They instead, lived closer to earth and had connection to plants, healing rituals and a far greater relationship based inter-connection to the rest of the physical world.
Today, human suffering is based on human separation from that world. Money matters, as it is the basis for global economy. No people, or very few at least, individuals can escape the human invested complexity and its woes of that abstract we call money. A raccoon or a fish, would have no idea of its “worth” to a human being. Thus, such organisms suffer only indirectly as a result of money existing at all, since it imperils their eco-systems and biodiversity for another human suffering called “development” or simply “profit.”
Suffering then, could rightly be called our disconnection to the living world. Reconnecting to that world requires a belief that we belong to the creation and cosmos, and that we are not an alien invader conquering it.
Suffering, in summary comes in two forms, the one that visits all life. This is injury, illness, pain and loss. And the one that we invented in our bigger brains which is disconnection, alienation, anxiety, sin, hate, war and so on. As human beings continue to evolve, people can affect both kinds of suffering, but can only hope to truly master the kind invented by humanity.
The solution to a problem after all, is best mastered by the beast that had the power to create it in the first place.