Pain: whether it be emotional/psychological or physical, it can affects us in similar ways. When we’re “in pain,” it becomes the focus of our awareness and for the period that we experience it, it can become the center of our world – the lens through which we view our lives, sometimes to devastating effect, and if all you can see is your pain you need to look more deeply.
For all of its otherness, is there anything more human than pain?
Our mothers bring us into this world as they experience what is often described as the most excruciating pain imaginable. And I can’t imagine that it’s any more comfortable for baby.
Matter of fact, the natural birthing process can be so traumatic that it physically deforms the baby – pressing and reshaping the fragile skull, and the folding of shoulders. I imagine being born is much like being passed through an extruder – this, not to mention the incredible and painful transformations a woman’s body undergoes during pregnancy and delivery.
We are born into life via pain and we often are born into our death via pain.
And in the in-between, our lives are filled with the stuff: broken skin, and broken bones, broken hearts, and sometimes broken minds… It is in our endurance of it that our grit is revealed.
Mother endures the pain of childbirth because she can see the hope of life beyond her pain: of birthdays and report cards, first bicycles, and skinned knees, of crushes and prom, weddings. She knows each painful contraction is worth it.
Obviously, I’m not a woman and so I may be talking out of turn here. Forgive me.
In antiquity and even today in some parts of the world, pain is viewed as a holy sacrament. Religious ascetics across many cultures and religions: Native American, Hindu, Italian Christian, Shiite Muslim, Chinese will self-flagellate or otherwise mortify themselves in an effort to atone for their sinful transgressions, enter manhood/womanhood, or perhaps, to touch God and enter a state of divine ecstasy.
Matter of fact, Christian salvation wouldn’t be possible without the pain Christ endured on the cross.
It’s no wonder then that pain has been upheld for thousands of years as valuable, if not, virtuous. That is, until we as a society determined that pain was no longer a virtue.
Today, modern science has devised ways to mask our pain: Zoloft, Paxil, Opioids…alcohol, marijuana, and meth too – though through them our pain isn’t relieved, only temporarily hidden, but never truly healed.
And as we hide from our pain, it grows and grows.
Pain is many things. And for all it’s apparent torments, pain can be our greatest comforter and teacher too. In pain, we can find it’s reason but first we must be willing to look at it. Then, we must be willing to see beyond it as a mother does, during birth.
When we break a bone we know the pain is temporary. The bone will heal and the cause of the pain will be alleviated. The same is true for the wounds of self-mortification – those wounds heal too, the soreness disappears and life moves on. The pain of a splinter is removed as the splinter is removed. If the splinter stays unseen, the wound festers.
Like the unseen splinter, the emotional/mental pains that we run from never go away. They get trapped in our bodies and make themselves manifest as other pains. Left unexpressed, emotional pain can manifest as: headaches, nausea, hypertension, muscle ache, irritable bowel syndrome, chronic pain, fibromyalgia, and chronic fatigue syndrome. They can manifest as psychiatric disorders such as addiction (food, sex, drug & alcohol,) and other forms of disordered thinking and in our effort to run from it we become attached to our pain. We accept it as a way of life.
And so we go to the Doctor and are prescribed other medicines that treat the symptom but offer no lasting solution to the actual problem.
How can we then remove a splinter that we can’t see? By shining a light on it and acknowledging its presence. And that’s the hardest part because most of us have practiced our, “everything is fine,” for so long we actually believe it.
And when we do finally turn our eyes towards that pain the next thing we should do is ask it to teach us. This moment of acknowledgement can be terrifying for some but I promise the monster that chases you is only a hurt – simply asking to be released.
Pain is a gateway.
Our pain has reason. Speak to it. Curl up with it and love on it, and it will talk to you if you’re willing to hear it. It will teach you how to heal it if you’re willing to hear it.
Once acknowledged, some pains may only take a week or so to heal. Others may take a lifetime. But the process is noble, and the truth sets us free.
The only way out is through.
Om, Baby! Om.