Experiencing Pain as a Teacher, Not an Enemy

· November 10, 2015

I am the ghost of a shadow of what I once was, the remnant of the disagreement which indicated my evasion, and I pursue the objective of my life without understanding it. What brought me here? 

The years pass and I change just as the wind blows. I change depending on my successes, and when I need it most I pray. I cling to the sign, the guide, the pillar that supports my weight, without realizing that I bury it to the point of driving it into the cold, hard ground. 

The mornings become expansive, the nights eternal. How I wish I had the energy of a comet, although I would only make up its tail. Why does destiny make me suffer? And the saddest part, why have I made others suffer because of my destiny? Maybe I should just remain alone, but I am trapped by my own selfishness. I need some arms to wrap around me, to warm me with the beat of a heart, and to feel the wind of the breath of a friendly soul. 

They taught me that I should avoid pain, flee from it, deny it. However, it comes back stronger, it doesn’t leave me, it takes hold of me.

Pain, bitter pain, I do not want you, leave me, be gone. 

Pain, bitter pain, why do you cling to me? 

They taught me to not think of it, they taught me to always look for a remedy, they taught me to take medicine, use ointments, a thousand temporary solutions. They told me to ignore it, to focus my attention on something else, to flee from its presence like I would run from the devil himself.

In some moments of our lives, maybe many moments, this internal dialogue of a suffering person may be familiar. Whether it’s physical or mental pain, our culture teaches us to run from it, and to search for a cure at whatever cost.


Sometimes we abuse drugs, overmedicating ourselves, without recognizing that these are just quick fixes to cover up whatever scares us. 

Modern society does not accept pain, it perceives it as something unnatural, and that is where the problem begins. We distort it by transforming it into an enemy from which we should run, instead of thinking of it as something unpleasant yet natural.

Most physical problems have a solution, but some don’t. In many cases, medication is necessary, in others we become addicted, and in others the side effects of the medicine generate more discomfort than the original pain was causing.

waterlily

 

And what about psychological problems? The sorrows of the soul? What do we do about that pain? When facing mental affliction, there is no pill, no therapy, no remedy to ease the pain; there is nothing that alleviates it. The more we run from our pain, that is to say the more we try avoid thinking about it, the stronger it is when it returns.

To deal with this pain, we may choose to run away from it. Taking this path is what new modern therapies call “experiential avoidance disorder”, which they describe as a psychological disorder in which we push away and avoid our mental misery, allowing it to become chronic and develop certain aspects including, sadness, anguish, bitterness, or anxiety.

But this path leaves us defenseless; can’t we do anything about this? Yes, we can, and that is to not view this pain as something unnatural, nor as something to run away from, but rather as something that is a natural part of life.

This is the other way to look at it, and it means to look it in the eyes without making judgements of value, and to observe it as it is, without thoughts, with our full attention, without evaluating ourselves or even giving the pain words or emotions; simply observing it and learning from it, and not avoiding or running away from it, and dismantling it bit by bit, without controlling it. 

In short, we must learn that the pain is just pain, and that its relief depends simply on how we confront it, and whether or not we aggravate it or accept it as an inevitable part of life.

Pain appears like tides, it comes and goes. We learn to live with the pain not out of submission, nor defenselessness, but rather from acceptance and a proactive struggle for our lives.

In order to overcome the pain, we should not run away from it, but rather learn to face it. Even though in many cases this is difficult and absolutely terrifies us, it is possible to learn to live with the pain and to enjoy each moment, and all the other good things that life gives us.

And when we stop focusing on our pain, without shying away from it, but giving it fair significance, we find that sometimes it even seems to hurt less. 

“And with it in the end I learned, and although at first I did not know how to appreciate it, it shaped who I am as a person… and I grew.”

Image courtesy of Leon Chong