Getting Through Painful Times

Getting Through Painful Times

Are pain and suffering detrimental to us? Should we strive to avoid it or escape it every time?

Finding a positive response to negative feelings may not be an easy task, specially when the default reaction to pain is one of rejection and resistance. As someone said once to me, “I can only sit with my pain at a bar, drinking bourbon.”.

Negative emotions do serve a function. Understanding the positive side of fear, anger, guilt or anxiety helps us change the way we respond to it, and shift our focus from the pain to the ailing needs which cause it.

We are bound to experience pain and suffering as much as we are joy and well-being. Both are essential to our growth and fulfillment. For example, sadness and anxiety point us at life imbalance and unmet needs, and call for mental and physical well-being; anger and fear have allowed humans to survive for thousands of generations by fighting or escaping potential predators.

The “flight or fight response” is our basic and instinctual reaction to pain and, like in other animals, it comes from the the lower-back of our brain. These responses have existed for millions of years before the thinking brain and self-control capability developed at the front of our forehead. So when confronted with an offensive boss do you punch her in the nose, or do you take it on the chin, go drink another bourbon, and save the battle for another day? The fight or flight response will be on auto-pilot unless we train our brain to delay them, or even replace them for new choices of behavior.

Thanks to the practice of self-awareness there’s a third response. Instead of rejecting or resisting our fear, anger or sadness, we give them permission to exist and stay with us. We observe with our pain and become its witness. We pay attention to how it manifests within our body and breathe through it. In place of an old enemy, we have a familiar ally that at times stops by to share a cup of tea with us.

When we decide to listen to our suffering new opportunities and insights appear. Pain can be overwhelming, however, at the same time, it’s possible to witness how unstable and ever changing it is. Pain can show us new paths and doors that we had not seen before. It can push us to open ourselves to new ideas, give us the power to change old beliefs, and to be creative with our journeys. Simply by not having to make an effort to resist pain, we can begin to feel relief. When our pain is allowed to follow its course it has a tendency to diminish in its resolve.

The end to suffering is through suffering just like the end of the tunnel is going through the rest of the tunnel. There is another side that lead to new adventures and yes, more tunnels as well. Sometimes we get stuck, and fight and kick, resisting what ought to be experienced. And sometimes we need a reminder or a nudge to move forward, towards the light on the other side of the tunnel.