We are a culture built on avoiding pain.
Big statement? Yes, I agree. Don't believe me?
Think about it. We are inundated with products, advertisements, programs, pills, liquids, religions, seminars, self helps, political platforms and lives that are all centered around the elimination of pain.
They focus of the elimination of all and any kind of pain: physical pain, mental pain, emotional pain, spiritual pain, the pain of aging, the pain of letting go, the pain in my lower back, the pain from a hangover, the pain of loss, the pain of of consumption, the pain of...life.
Just the other day I saw an advertisement availing the solution that will provide me with a painless bathroom experience, I had not noticed any pain before, but now that you mention it....
For two decades I worked closely with teenagers and their parents and one of the trends that became more and more prevalent in parenting culture was the avoidance, at almost any cost, of pain for their children.
I would see parents calling coaches or dance team captains, bartering and arguing, until their child got more play time, teacher conferences until little Johnny's grade was raised from a B+ to an A, letting their child stay home sick so they did not have to turn in the assignment or take the test that they had not prepared for. Shirking consequences and responsibility, all ultimately in the avoidance of pain.
We, as a culture, have bought into the idea that pain is bad, something to be feared and avoided at all cost and that practice is hurting us more than we could ever imagine.
A number of years ago I read the story of Dr. Paul Brand. Dr. Brand was born in the early 20th century and was trained as a surgeon. After WWII he joined a hospital and research institute in Vellore, India where he studied the Biblical disease of leprosy. He is best known for his revolutionary discovery that the actual disease of leprosy was not the direct cause of it's most notable trait, namely the decay and loss of body parts. He discovered that the disease was not the root cause but rather the way the disease numbed the carrier.
His breakthrough discovery was literally that the loss of the ability to feel pain is what was killing his patients.
We have become a self-inflicted leprose people.
Pain is necessary.
Pain tells us something about ourselves, it reveals vulnerabilities, danger, and unexamined areas of our lives. It is a disruptor that causes us to stop, reevaluate, take notice and gives us new tools by which to navigate future situations.
When we do not feel pain we miss half of the scope of emotions that are available to us, and I would argue half of the goodness of life we have the opportunity to live.
Now, I am not saying you should knowingly grab a hot pan from the stove today or that your should enter into an unhealthy or abusive relationship on purpose. While one can still certainly learn from those situations, I would never advise that someone place themselves or keep themselves in an abusive situation, that is not the type of pain I am talking about.
The pain in which I refer is the pain of living life. It is the pain of loss, rejection, sadness, failure, disappointment and sorrow. These are all natural emotions that we should not avoid or "get over" rather we should feel them fully, let them speak to us and over us and ultimately work our way "through them" learning the lessons they want to teach us. When we let our pain examine us and us it, we learn about and experience parts ourselves that could have never been accessed through the cognitive process alone.
The insulation from pain has become the leprosy of our generation. We lose a part of ourselves and the very thing that we believe is protecting us is actually rotting us from the inside.
It is time to let our pain begin to heal us.
"This One Good Life" Resources
Working with and Through Pain
- When you begin to experience pain or sadness do not immediately recoil or push it away.
- Take time and see where it is affecting or effecting you, what feelings, stories or emotions is it bringing up in your mind?
- Let the pain speak to you. Let it point out where you are vulnerable, not so that you can fortify this place or build an emotional wall around it, but rather to see it in a new light and explore that area for maybe the first time or the first time in a while.
- Know that often time pain is just the surface level emotion of what is actually going on, allow time and contemplation to reveal the depth of layers below it.
- Do not hurry through the process of pain. Let it take its course. Pain changes over time, it morphs and speaks to us differently the longer we converse with it.
- Also, do not make a home in the pain. It, just like joy, is temporal, do not overstay your welcome in its graces, it is not your home, just a temporary lodging on your journey.
- Finally, do not be afraid to revisit the pain or sadness, not to stay but to reference, to remember and to appreciate the beauty that came from your relationship with it.