We all know, Pain in life is inevitable. It’s the suffering that is optional. Yet why do we continue to suffer. I have come to observe that we as a human species are pain-avoidant creatures which may simply be an evolutionary program. We touch the hot stove as a child and never want to touch it again. It instantly is scared in our memory that pain is not fun and we must avoid it to keep us alive. This pattern of pain avoidance, especially with emotional pain is what I have found to be the continuation of suffering. The avoidance of emotional pain is one of most pervasive problems for human kind. The epidemic with addiction (specifically prescription pills) and individual’s desires to self-medicate is evidence of this. No one likes to experience pain, but if pain serves a purpose until is no longer is needed then what is it trying to teach us? I think it’s trying to teach us not to run, not to avoid, not to be led by fear. I think it is trying to remind us of who we really are. We are not the pain in the body but rather the witness to the pain. Therefore, the pain is there to teach us, who or what we are identifying with is not our true nature and must be let go.
We can begin to let go of physical and emotional pain once we identify with our true nature. This requires non-attachment, non-resistance and non-judgment of our current experience. Which all sound easy, but require significant work to master. When I think of the most painful event imaginable it would be the death of a child or loved one. Radically accepting this seems so hard. Yet what are we resisting, what we are hurt by or angry with? These questions, of self-exploration are what create conscious awareness in the moment.
“Pain is a sensation accompanied by a motor intention to withdrawal”
I forget who first spoke this but this definition points out an alarming yet relieving fact: Pain is simply a sensation. Pain therefore can be observed as a sensation in the body. It is not who you are and does not have to create such fear or desire to avoid. That is a faulty error in thinking that can be corrected. Pain I like to think of as discomfort, not ideal but tolerable. Suffering is not necessary if you radically accept what your experience. Suffering requires you live in the past, resist what happened or resist that you are experiencing pain now.
For example: When I went through what felt like at the time a devastating breakup, I remember waking up in the middle of the night to dreams of him and then panic hit me that my reality was true that we were separated and this was my new reality. My heart felt physically like I was dying, I could pin point the lower part of my heart, where if I was 80 years old I would be convinced I was having chest pain consistent with heart failure. My heart felt so bad, the situation felt real. It’s in believing my thoughts about the situation that caused me suffering; that the engagement shouldn’t have ended and I should not be experiencing this now that caused me suffering. *I was resisting the now, vehemently.
As I sat crying watching the pain, I then remembered something that changed that situation and now everyone. I remembered the thought “this is just growing pains; my heart is growing.” Change and growth may be painful, but are necessary. I remembered waking up as a little girl crying in the middle of the night for my mom to bring me Tylenol. The “growing pains” in my legs felt at the time excruciating. And in that moment I wanted to avoid the pain. Just like now so many years later. But it was temporary, it only lasted as long as it should. And then I saw that I was observing the pain and no longer identified with the chest pain, the story changed. I was the witness to it and therefore not it. If you get this one sentence, you will begin to see all things are this. And the minute I saw this, the pain became just an ounce more bearable. As time went on, the story continued to change and once again the pain only lasted as long as it should.