We’ve all got it. It’s that deep, nasty, hidden creature who lurks in you, telling you you’re inadequate, worthless, fraudulent, useless, or just plain not as good.
Most of us treat it like it’s some dirty secret, some shameful thing we must hide from those around us, and ourselves. So we lock it away, or pretend it’s not there, or try to fix it. Others of us glorify pain, or revel in it, or wallow in it.
None of these is a functional relationship with pain. Each of these will cause “life issues” because whether you tend to avoid it, or whether you tend to celebrate it, all the above responses to pain are rooted in not being comfortable with it.
Think about how it is when you’re in a room with a person you are uncomfortable with. The talk is stilted, filled with difficult silences. There’s a yucky energy both of you are aware of but neither of you mention it. Maybe you’re the person who is desperate to leave or distract, or maybe you’re the one who talks incessantly and tries to stay positive, but either way it’s not fun.
And more importantly: your experience of that person, that room, and even the reason why you’re there is deeply colored by the unspoken problem that exists between you and that person.
When you’re uncomfortable with your pain, that’s what is going on in your consciousness all the time. It’s as if you’re living in a share house when there is a really bad vibe (if you’ve experienced this, you KNOW what I mean) between you and one of the other flat mates. This has all kinds of negative repercussions in your inner life, as well as your outer life.
On the inner side, being uncomfortable with your pain equates to being uncomfortable with yourself (it is a part of you, after all), and this leads to all kinds of ineffective living: for example, not acting on something you should go for, not speaking up when it’s right to, treating others badly, feeling hollow or uncertain, etc.
Pain that sits in you unaddressed eventually turns into outer life issues that can’t be ignored, for instance, that deep self hatred will become divorce proceedings, or bankruptcy, or cancer, if you keep ignoring it.
Here’s the bottom line: if you don’t address your pain, IN YOU, you will project it OUT OF YOU, and experience it via real-life experiences that suck.
When you don’t embrace your pain, you end up projecting it onto the world, usually without noticing you are doing it. When this happens, you begin to experience your pain as real life, and now it becomes like a taint that affects everything you are involved in. Now the abuse you experienced in childhood becomes like a cul de sac you can’t drive out of, and you see it everywhere, even where it isn’t, and so you live it out, over and over and over again.
Here are some points about pain:
1. Embracing it is NOT the same as “dealing” with it, by which I mean anything that is not just being with it: fixing it, repressing it, spending years wallowing in it, explaining it, moving on from it, letting it go, etc. etc. THERE IS NOTHING TO DO WITH PAIN, or about pain. The ONLY problem with it is your own resistance to it. Trying to DEAL with your pain is the same as trying to deal with an unruly child – ultimately it only makes things worse.
2. Which leads straight on to the next point. Pain just wants one thing, and one thing only: to be felt. To be heard. To be validated. (okay, so I know that is three things, but I mean it as a single action, all at once) If you don’t hear and validate a child who is upset, what happens? They scream louder. If you don’t embrace your pain, a light wind will become a storm, then a gale, then a hurricane, and finally a life-decimating tornado.
3. Life is filled with all kinds of pain. It’s part of what it is to be a human, living a life. When you want things, it hurts because you don’t have them yet. When you have things it hurts because you fear they will be taken away. When you fail it hurts because you feel lesser. When you succeed it hurts because you will have let something else go to get where you are. And so on. Every human being is hurting in some way. If you haven’t accepted that pain is part of life yet, do it. And when you do, you will find the magnificence of REAL life, which is so much more glorious than an imaginary concept of life where all is perfect. As Joseph Campbell says: “Suddenly you’re ripped into being alive. And life is pain, and life is suffering, and life is horror but my God you’re alive and it’s spectacular.”
4. You want to validate your pain. You DO NOT want to validate the behavior that arises out of it,in yourself or others. This is a key point. It’s totally okay to feel angry, to feel powerless in asituation. It’s NOT okay to behave like an asshole, or try to suppress other people or get bitchy asa response to your anger. Being an adult who is embracing their pain, you want to totally acceptyour pain, no matter what it is, but NOT the shitty behaviors that arise out of it. To me, this is realself love. Compassion for pain. Boundaries for bad behavior. Which is not to say I’m advocatingtrying to be perfect all the time – no way. Just wo/man up and take responsibility for your bullshitwhen it happens.
5. True self-love hasn’t happened unless you have embraced your pain. Totally. Without denial.And with great love. And true self love is absolutely vital to living an inspired life.
So, back to the metaphor of your pain like a nasty flat mate staking out your consciousness. It’srelatively easy to fix the bad share house situation in real life – just move out, if all else fails, butyou can’t just bail on your own consciousness – so if you want to be happy and create what youlove, you have to make friends with your pain. How do you do that? Well, what does it take tomake friends with a person? First, you have to spend time with them, you have to get to knowthem, you have to accept their foibles, and in the end, you come to love them.
Here are the steps to making friends with your pain:
STEP 1: Recognize it. This one can be trickier than it sounds. Typically we do a lot of stuff to avoid feeling how we feel. Like if your pain is fear, then you might find yourself running away from things all the time, and you might move so quickly into the behavior of running, that you don’t know you’re afraid. So the first part of recognizing pain, is stop doing what you do to avoid it. Whether that’s eating too much, drinking, smoking, watching tv, blaming others, rejecting people, running away, or a thousand other things. Stop reacting. Slow down. Breathe. And feel.
STEP 2: Age your pain. This is the best way I have found to stop judging yourself for feeling the way you feel and just allow it to exist. An example. One of my big “pains” is that I feel inadequate. Often. Especially when I’m doing something I love, like writing for instance. When I write, I always have this big concept in my mind that I want to get across, and then I fear that I won’t have the words, the gumption, the ability to do the idea justice. So I could give myself a hard time about this. I could say: “Grow Up”, or I could try to explain to my feelings that they don’t make sense because I’ve written plenty of things that were good before, or I could just suppress how I feel and just force myself to write anyway.
When I think of that sense of inadequacy at my age now, as a grown woman, it doesn’t seem valid. But when I “age” my pain, and realize that it comes from when I was 2 years old and my dad left us, and I suddenly had to deal with a whole bunch of adult responsibilities (including my own safety) – it makes perfect sense. It’s totally valid for a 2 year old to feel inadequate and overwhelmed to deal with life. Now I can feel deep compassion for this part of me, and it’s easy to relate to where she is coming from. Now, it feels like cruelty to reject her, which it is.
STEP 3: Be with it. Feel your pain. Hear your pain. Validate your pain. Soothe your pain. This should be easy now that you have located it in time. Imagine that pain is like a little girl or boy inside you and respond to it as you would to a child in real life. Give them the love they deserve.
Pain is good. It brings with it great richness of experience and great joy. When you move towards it, instead of away, when you give it your heart, instead of your mind, when you embrace it, it is the same as embracing yourself.
Out of this comes wholeness. And wholeness is the key to living and creating joyfully, effortlessly and abundantly.
That’s it for me, for today.
Let me know what you think.
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