We are programmed to think of pain as being a bad thing, but pain has lots of functions for us. It warns us away from things that are bad from us. It tells us when to reach out to others and get help. It’s easier to think about how to deal with physical pain than it is to deal with psychic pain. When we have physical pain, it’s easier to think of something to “do” to “fix” it, but when you experience chronic pain either physically or psychologically, it’s much more challenging to “fix”.
Discussing physical pain first, it’s very interesting to read studies on Mindfulness and pain. Two different people can experience the same degree of pain, and one person may find it overwhelming and another as a mild annoyance. How we react is very personal, but research does show us that how we think about pain and what we do about it can impact the degree of effect it has on our lives. People who practice “Mindfulness” actually experience pain as less severe and recover quicker. People who are instead focused on relieving all pain and numbing themselves to it, don’t function well at all. Because pain is a part of life.
Sometimes it’s a matter of the way we let ourselves think of what’s happening to us. When we think of a situation as painful, we do actually feel more pain vs thinking of a situation as challenging. Case in point is Matthew Sanford who wrote a book called “Waking”. Matthew is paralyzed and is a yoga instructor. Matthew is inspirational without a doubt, but it’s also how he took what happened to him and incorporated that disability into a part of his life that enhanced his life, rather than destroyed it. His paralysis was a challenge, not an obstacle. He found new ways to do things, and the power of our brains is so strong that Matthew’s practice actually resulted in greater muscle tone and movement in his paralyzed body than others who don’t and who accepted “can’t”.
Certainly Matthew’s circumstance is fortunately not one many of us have to deal with. The amount of challenge and discomfort in his life is one most of us can only imagine, but it is a very good example of what happens when something bad happens to us. When something bad happens, what thought processes do you have? Does the situation seem insurmountable? Do you go to a place of feeling like a loser, or a failure? Things happen badly regularly. We have a tendency to focus on what goes wrong instead of the thousands of things that go right every day. When things go wrong, whether it’s emotional or physical, we tend to panic. If instead we consider these things in a different way, we might feel differently about them. I invite you to think of discomfort as a way the body has to tell you something needs to change in your life, and other feelings we think of as negative as an alarm telling you something. The alarm is telling you it’s time to think about what you’re doing, maybe it’s telling you to think before you do things, or even stop what you’re doing, but try not fighting or numbing these feelings, because if you do you’re missing an opportunity to listen to what your body and brain are telling you- something needs to change. Listen, explore, and figure out what it’s trying to tell you. The solution to happiness is inside you, and you can only get there if you truly embrace what your body and brain is trying to tell you, and sometimes, you just have to stop and be with it, instead of fighting it. Let yourself cry. Let yourself grieve. Love yourself. Surround yourself as much as possible with those who love themselves and you. Only when you can tolerate pain and discomfort can you truly feel peace and happiness because of it’s absence. If you spend all your time trying to avoid feeling bad, you will always feel bad because running away also doesn’t feel good and things have a way of popping back up over and over again because we do need to face them head on and deal with them. The alternative is to keep making the same life mistakes over and over. So try embracing the pain you feel, welcome the message it is giving you. Spend less time fighting it, or trying to numb it, and try to listen to the message. When you’re able to do that, you’ll be able to endure it and possible find new ways to survive it, and then you will be able to enjoy all the times it’s absent. We have to find a way to endure pain, because there is no life without it.