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The Pain of Being Alive

March 14, 2012

It has been said that pain is simply a part of what it means to be alive; an affirmation that we are living and breathing, for pain it seems comes with every change and change is the one constant in the universe.

Does that sound too morbid? That life IS pain?

Yes, there is plenty of pain in life that any sane person would choose to avoid if possible; the pain of a body broken in an accident; the pain of a long term illness; of starvation; the pain of exposure to the elements.  It is our nature to avoid these kinds of pain; to take steps to ensure that we don’t have to be subjected to them because, quite frankly, the pain is unpleasant. But not all physical pain is bad.

Indeed, physical pain can be an indication of growth; such as the growing pains experienced by children or the burning pain of muscles that are being built up through rigorous exercise.  Pain can also go hand in hand with extreme pleasure, as experienced during orgasm, or as the beginning of life itself, as experienced in childbirth.

But there are other kinds of pain.  There are pains that run deeper than the physical; pains that originate in the mind and that are not as easily healed as physical injuries and illnesses.  These pains can have their origins in betrayed trust, in unrequited love, in guilt, in dashed hopes and failed expectations.

We know, logically, that these kinds of pains tend to be the catalysts for profound change; but we find ourselves cringing away from this kind of pain because sometimes it seems as if these kinds of wounds are more painful than physical pain ever dreamt of being; primarily because we don’t allow ourselves to heal.  Unlike physical injuries, we can’t seem to be able to process mental and emotional trauma that can lead to healing and growth.

In fact, we tend to cling to our pain; especially our mental pain; to embrace it as if it were a treasured possession.  Perhaps it is because the pain reminds us of what we had and what we had; of the life we once lived and of everything that we have lost.  Perhaps it is our way of making ourselves pay for something that we consider to be our fault; our way of making atonement for our mistakes.  We cling to it in spite of our feeble attempts to mask it; to ease it with painkillers and narcotics; with shopping and sex and alcohol.

We don’t want the pain, but we don’t seem to know how to let go of it. It is as if on a very fundamental level we understand that even though pain hurts us – it is a catalyst for growth; for becoming the person that we were always meant to be.  The disconnect is in knowing how to recognize it for what it is and process it in such a way that it becomes a blessing and not a curse.

The Zen masters understood this, which is why they said that the only solution to pain and suffering in this world was to become one with it – to allow yourself to feel the pain completely and totally; to let it fill you up until there is absolutely nothing else that exists in your universe. In doing this you receive everything that the pain is offering you.  You accept it freely.  You allow yourself to experience it fully.  Then and only then are you ready to let go of the pain in order to make room for something new in your life.

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