Pain is a part of life. Without it, we wouldn’t be able to experience the counterpart – full joy. Without something to measure by, we wouldn’t know the complete fullness joy of we were living in it. The shadow makes us yearn for the sun. Part of our journey as humans is to take for granted the good that we have, and to yearn for what we perceive to be on the ‘other’ side. Pain shows us the good that we have. The good that we know right now, in the midst of pain. It brings forth the memory of painlessness. And it tempers the yearning for the unknown with a good dose of reality.
I’ve been watching my mother in the various stages of pain this past week as she goes through a total knee replacement and as is my way, I find myself in deep thought about the lessons life has to teach us.
I see masses of pain, on my mother’s face, and on the faces of those who share the therapy gym with her. I see people whose job it is to inflict pain – for a greater good. And I start to see that pain is good. It is a communicator. It is a means to an end. It is a measure. And it’s loss is a fast lane to instant joy.
And I’ve seen something that, as a writer, I know I was meant to see. Pain is not a simple thing. Nor does it come in only one form. Physical pain, while excruciating, doesn’t make you cry. It makes you sick to your stomach. It can put you in shock or cause you to pass out. But it doesn’t make you cry.
Emotional pain brings the tears. Some people cry when they’re physically hurting, but they aren’t crying from the physical pain. The tears are due to an emotional response to the physical pain. A feeling of helplessness, abandonment, betrayal. Sometimes, when we are physically hurting, the sensation brings up a subconscious feeling of betrayal. Maybe we had a caregiver in our youth, whom we trusted to always keep us warm and safe and happy, who hurt us. Or allowed us to be hurt. We might not remember the incident, but we somehow associate physical pain with the remembered sensation. We subconsciously associate pain with that memory. Or maybe, for some, it’s simpler than that. Maybe it’s just that the body that you trusted to see you through life well, is failing, letting you down, leaving you with a sense of abandonment or helplessness. It’s the sense of abandonment that brings the emotional pain. The tears. Maybe pain brings fear and the fear incites tears.
So…my take is this:
1. Physical pain is much much easier to bear if you can disassociate emotion from it. If you can figure out the emotional trigger associated with it, or even just put your mind in a place that occupies your emotions, the physical pain is eased. It’s distraction therapy, but on a much deeper level.
2. The hard things in life are easier to endure and are accomplished more quickly if they lead to desired benefit. And if you keep that end in mind.
3. Fighting pain is like shooting yourself in the foot.
4. Emotional pain is not always based in reality and, if you’re willing to look it in the eye and take it on, can dissipate immensely.
5. Pain is inevitable. And necessary. Pain is good. And it doesn’t hurt nearly as bad if you can climb out of the negative emotions associated with it and focus on the benefit it brings – whatever that might be, keeping in mind that the benefit might sometimes just be pain’s absence. Or the strength that your spirit gains when you endure.
6. In all things, look for the gift the universe is bringing you.
7. And contrary to advertisement based cliché, your gain is not always measured by the pain, or requisite of it, either.
I know people who live in chronic physical pain. They are some of the strongest individuals I have ever known. And some of them are the happiest people I know, too. The pain has led them away from the things in life that we allow to upset us, and taken them straight to what matters most. The little things don’t bother them. They don’t sweat the small stuff. They are hugely grateful for any kindnesses they are given. And look forward to the smallest pleasures as even a moment away from the awareness of pain is a good thing.
Some of you are aware that I live with a chronic emotional pain. Sometimes it gets the better of me. Sometimes those I love pay the price. This pain of this week has been a gift to me. I still feel the emotional ache with as much acuteness, but I feel stronger, too. Happier. Because I know that there is a purpose. That good is coming from it. I need only to stay focused on that end.
Something else I’ve learned this week, another good that came out of the pain…necessity is the mother of invention and when we’re suffering, hearing how others cope helps. Ideas spring forth (like powder on legs to help pull up anti-embolism socks) that offer relief to many when they need it most. So how do you deal with the painful times in your life?