Rumi got lots of things right (obviously), but one of my favorite Rumi quotes of all time is, “The cure for pain is in the pain.” It may sound morbid at first. Almost like suggesting that suffering is a good thing. But upon further contemplation, that isn’t what it implies at all. What it DOES imply, however, is that in order to heal we must feel and that in order to grow, we must go to the source.
From a very early age most of us are not only taught to avoid pain, but socially rewarded for it. Avoiding pain has become an epidemic, and one that has landed many of us in the throws of addiction and life-long patterns that we don’t feel ready or able to break. From an early age, we learn that “socially acceptable” ways to deal with scary feelings are to replace things and people we lose with supposedly shinier things, to drink and shop and eat and sex and work and social media our pain away, and to avoid revealing our inner-most feelings to most people, because that might mean judgment, social isolation or even abandonment. We also force ourselves to be positive and “change our thinking,” not as a function of self-love and healing, but as a function of stuffing and punishing ourselves for feeling anything other than enthusiastic and empowered all the time.
The truth is, in any human life, there are myriad ups and downs. And lying about that or pretending it doesn’t exist is an injustice. In some lives there are way more challenges than others. I can’t know (nobody can) why this is and why the scales aren’t more balanced in some way, but I can know that avoiding dealing with life’s disappointments, devastations and challenges is the very thing that keeps us stuck in a cycle of hurt.
Hurt people hurt other people.
And, so it goes, if you want to not only live a more abundant and joy-filled life, but also be kinder and more patient and forgiving of those around you, the only way to do that is to dig through your own junkyard first.
THREE REASONS WHY THE CURE FOR PAIN IS IN THE PAIN:
1. Pain signifies something you should pay attention to.
Recently I had an infected wisdom tooth. Can you say OUCH!? I was fine on a Saturday, eating normally and had no mouth pain. And by 3AM Sunday morning I was in so much pain that I could barely breathe. The pain was so intense (like a 7 or 8) I had no choice but to acknowledge it. As soon as they were open, I marched myself to urgent care and got some antibiotics. I then made an appointment for the soonest dental appointment I could get. Even while I was on the antibiotics (two types for over two weeks), the pain ebbed and flowed and sometimes it was so intense that I tried to think of every way I could to shove it or stuff it or keep it away. That was simply not an option.
Because of the intensity of the pain, I became willing (even though I was afraid) VERY quickly to make the appointment to have my wisdom tooth removed. If I was going to get away from the pain I wanted so desperately to avoid, I had no other option than to accept that I wasn’t in control of this and HAD to deal with the problem.
Before the dental procedure, I was nervous and fearful about having to recover alone. I was also afraid that I might not take care of myself properly (which is a totally irrational fear, since I’m actually pretty amazing at taking care of my own needs). And, of course, as anyone would be, I was afraid of the pain I was going to experience during the procedure, because I was opting to do it without a sedative.
By the time I got to the surgeon, I was more than willing to experience any amount of necessary (and temporary) discomfort than to continue feeling a loud and lingering pain in the long-run.
The surgeon turned out to be amazing. He even made me laugh out loud while I had a huge device in my mouth and a drill going what seemed at the loudest octave it could muster.
And do you know the craziest thing happened. The minute I dealt with the cause of the pain, about three days later, I had zero pain.
Now, this is obviously an example of how the avoidance of pain (like me avoiding the dentist for way too long), led to a resounding notification from my body that I was NOT OKAY. And as inconvenient as it was, it FORCED me to live in reality, to face the core issue and to address it head on.
Was it uncomfortable? Of course. But it was also a huge gift. If I hadn’t had the pain, I might have gotten a really serious and even full body infection. But I didn’t, because the pain gave me information I needed to both be aware and willing to address the issue.
2. Avoiding pain causes more pain
When we have hard things that happen to us as children (tragic and severe things even), it is entirely normal to dissociate, to avoid, to stuff and to pretend everything is okay as a literal function of survival.
Children are not responsible for their feelings, thoughts and reactions. But adults are.
When we get older and haven’t yet found the tools with which to heal the original pain, we march right out into the world and RECREATE the same dynamics that caused us to shut down and suffer in the first place. The same things we SWORE up and down we would NEVER do again!
Do we do this on purpose? Of course not. Do we do it because we have a vendetta against ourselves? Also, of course not. We do this because that was what we learned relationships and love and life were. Pain.
As we get older and older and we go on doing and recreating the same things, we continue to do serious damage to that inner-child who was already so broken up, beaten down and frightened.
We pick people, places and things that mirror to us the same wounds and the same narratives we once clung to as “gospel” and we end up amassing pain on top of pain on top of pain on top of pain.
By the time we are ready to face it, it is usually an “out of options” situation and it leaves us in a space of such intense grief and discomfort that we often try to find ways to stuff it down again.
This kind of avoidance can lead to all kinds of horrors like strings of broken relationships, serious addictions, job losses, mental illness, financial duress, more abuse from others and even serious physical manifestations of that pain.
At some point, if you keep avoiding the pain, you will not only continue to create more pain on top of the original source, but you will be avoiding the very thing that truly can set you free.
The truth never changes, but until you face it, nothing else changes either.
3. Feeling it now means freedom in the future
If we don’t save money, we don’t have any in the long run. If we don’t exercise and eat well, we don’t have a healthy body. And if we don’t clean up our own messes, we wreak havoc everywhere we go.
The same goes for pain.
There is a huge fear many people carry that if they allow the feelings to open up (especially for horrific traumas that are really, really, really hard and scary to talk about), that the well of emotional intensity will never end. While I totally get and relate to that fear, it is absolutely the converse of what is true.
If you have a back-log of grief and trauma and sadness and wounds to process, will talking about them hurt more for a little while? Absolutely. Will opening your heart up to trusting a professional or a coach or a mentor make you more emotional, more scared and maybe even remarkably overwhelmed for some time? A hundred percent yes. But will it last forever? I promise you it will not.
You know what will last forever and continue to rob you of the very joy that you were put on this planet to feel, enjoy and share? Avoiding it. Avoiding it means short-term comfort for long-term crisis. And long-term crisis is NOT your birth right or your destiny (unless you choose it to be).
Let me be very clear about something here. If you are a person who has had horrific traumas, terrible abuse and life-long hardship, I do not recommend trying to process or open up these feelings alone. In fact, I strongly caution you against it. It won’t be safe, because you haven’t yet learned the tools for dealing with them. But I promise you this, if you want the help, there ARE safe people on the planet with whom you can share. Maybe a therapist, maybe a mentor, maybe a spiritual advisor, maybe even a very loving partner or best friend who you know can handle your feelings and show up 100 percent when you need them.
Even if you are really, really afraid. Even if you can make a list of a million reasons why there is no safe person on the planet that can handle your emotions, try (little by little) to practice the willingness to look around. To be open. And to keep an eagle eye out for that right person when he/she/they show(s) up for you.
It really is true when you are ready to grow, the teacher will come forth. And when they do, your sharing with that other person (the right person), will change their lives right along with them helping you to change yours.
If you are in pain and ready to face it, or even if you need help becoming ready, I can help. For a 30-minute, complimentary phone consultation refer to this blog.