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The Meaning of Pain

Take a look at our lives. While there are some things we do specifically because we are following our joy, the bulk of things we do in our life, we do specifically to avoid and escape pain. We go to school and then work so we can guarantee we wont feel the pain of being broke. We try to be as careful as possible with selecting a partner who is a safe bet so we don’t have to feel the pain of heartbreak. We get married so we can guarantee we wont feel the pain of separation. We take that pill so we don’t have to feel the residual pain of previous traumas in our emotional body. We put money in a retirement fund so we don’t have to feel the pain of working forever. Just take a look at your life objectively and see how much of it is lived to escape or avoid pain.
This is not your fault. All species on earth are physically designed to avoid pain and gain pleasure. We are designed for the constant movement away from pain and towards pleasure. This is not a tormenting process until we add painful meaning to pain… until we make feeling pain mean something. This causes us to resist pain itself. And what do we know about resistance? Whatever we resist persists. Most of us are absolutely terrified of pain because of what we have made pain mean.
So right now, I want you to ask yourself and answer as deeply and honestly as possible from the core of your being, what do I make pain mean? Here is an example: To one person, pain might mean that they did or are doing something wrong and therefore they need to correct something or change it instantly. If they don’t correct the thing that is wrong, this might mean to them that they are unlovable, not good and unwanted which leads to being rejected and forsaken. So pain equals being rejected and alone. The physical human, being a social group species, equates being alone with death. In truth, for many of us, being isolated is worse than death. So we would prefer death to being alone. If this is the case, pain becomes a worse fate than death. If we are this person, we will become terrified of pain. If we are this person, we have made feeling pain wrong and therefore bad. We will be desperate to get out of pain the second we feel it. We will chronically ruminate and worry. Our life will be a futile, desperate attempt to control external conditions so we never feel pain. And we will be in more pain than the average person because of it.
This is what most of us think. We think pain is wrong and therefore bad. If we feel pain, we think something has gone terribly wrong. And nowhere is this truer than in the spiritual community. Modern spiritual practice has recognized that emotions serve as a compass. When we subscribe to the idea that we create our own reality with our mind, we begin to use the way we feel to indicate whether we are in the process of creating and attracting something we want to create or whether we are in the process of creating and attracting something don’t want to create. Suddenly, negative emotions and pain becomes enemy number one. Pain becomes conceptualized as an error. Pain becomes wrong. We need to drastically alter the way that we see pain. Pain is not bad or wrong. Pain is an indication that you are alive. Numbness is an indication you are not alive. Pain is also a multi dimensional experience. It involves the physical, emotional and mental aspect of our being. And it is all interrelated, meaning physical pain causes emotional and mental pain, mental pain causes emotional and physical pain, and emotional pain causes mental and physical pain. No matter whether you perceive pain as starting at a physical, emotional or mental level, it will end up involving the other two aspects of our being.
When we feel pain, it does something; it calls our attention and focus to whatever is in need of presence. This is the real reason why suffering has been the main doorway to enlightenment for so many thousands of years. The presence of your consciousness transforms suffering into awakening. Because of this, to try to make it go away shouldn’t be our goal; we need to let the pain show us what needs to be shown and known. It alerts us to where we are out of alignment. It is a crucial aspect of healing. What modern medicine will eventually figure out is that pain in fact triggers repair mechanisms. It alerts us to the aspects of ourselves that need to be brought back into alignment so that we can become whole. In fact, a while back I was teaching a group of health professionals and one of them shared this beautiful insight with me that the letters of the word pain stand for… Pay Attention Integrate Now. Pain prompts you to re-evaluate and change your life.
The purpose of life is to facilitate consciousness becoming conscious of itself. Pain calls us to become conscious of ourselves. It is the catalyst for self- knowledge. It wakes us up from our unconscious slumber and as such, people who experience pain are provided the opportunity to wake up. It is a biofeedback system telling us about ourselves. It is a messenger. All too often, when we think pain is bad, we shoot the messenger.
Pain calls for presence. When we go into pain, it puts others in the position of providing their presence, often in the form of assistance. It unites us in this way. Pain equalizes us and forces a shared experience. This has powerful implication as it applies to ourselves as well. Pain calls us powerfully into the present moment with ourselves; it causes us to fully be with ourselves. This is the opposite of self-abandonment. Being fully present with ourselves and with what is, is a high level spiritual practice, one that is forced by pain. Pain is a catalyst for expansion. The universe expands when we expand and we expand as a result of forming new preferences. Pain causes us to become acutely aware of what is authentically desired and what is not desired so that we can go in the direction of what is desired and thus expand. The entire process we call evolution is in fact the byproduct of pain. Discomfort triggers wanting and that wanting triggers an evolutionary process by which we align with our desires.
Pain creates a very empowered person. Each time pain gives us the opportunity to become aware of the cause of the pain, we must face an aspect of ourselves and our lives that scares us or that we are trying to avoid. By doing this, we become more and more non reactive, more and more present with ourselves, more and more comfortable with facing fears until the things we fear lose their power over us. We develop a kind of graceful immunity.
Pain is contrast. We need contrast to become aware. We cannot understand black without white. We could not understand or truly experience pleasure without knowing pain. In this way, pain enriches positive emotional states and in fact increases our capacity for pleasure. To the degree we have suffered, we are capable of the opposing level of joy. Pain is also the seed of compassion. We must know pain, to recognize it in another. We must know pain to care enough to create a world that is free from suffering. Pain is the catalyst to improving all of your relationships… Your relationship with life, your relationship with other people, your relationship with the universe at large and your relationship with yourself. Pain becomes suffering when pain is not responded to with presence. When it is hushed, suppressed, denied, disowned and pushed past and when unconscious meaning is added to it. You do not need to suffer because of pain. Suffering is about perception. In other words, suffering is what happens when you make pain itself mean something negative. To understand how meaning changes pain into suffering, watch my YouTube video titled: "Meaning, The Self-Destruct Button".
It is well known that pain is experienced differently by people who make the pain mean something positive instead of negative. During World War 2 it is widely reported that a great many soldiers could be operated on with little to no anesthetic because they took pride in their wounds. For these individuals, their wounds did not cause suffering because of what they meant. This tells us that we need to change the meaning we add to pain. Treat pain like a teacher and learn from your pain. Visualize the pain; see it in your mind. What color is it? What texture is it? When did it start? When, by your experience, do you expect it to stop or decrease in intensity? How big is it? Where does it exist? Where does it not exist? Explore around the pain and find the edges of it. If your pain could speak to you, what would it say? What does it need? We need to be willing to choose to be present with our pain and surrender to it to use pain to transform ourselves. See the truth that it is a companion for improvement rather than an adversary. To understand how to be present with your pain, watch my YouTube video titled “How To Heal The Emotional Body”. We often become identified with our pain. This is especially true if we have been in pain for a long time. But you are not your pain. The pain is an experience just like the ripples on the top of a lake are disturbances of the lake water; they are not the whole lake. We may benefit by dis-identifying from our pain by imagining the totality of it as a separate entity. When we feel pain, we can see that it is this pain entity that is “charged or activated” and not us. When we experience chronic pain, it means that pain is no longer an experience for us. We have not used the pain to create the change that it is telling us to make and instead, the pain has become us. It is our reality and it is our identity. The ego has now identified with it and thus sees it as crucial to its survival. We need to ask ourselves honestly the following questions: What bad thing would happen if I sat with my pain and allowed it completely instead of trying to make it go away? What would it take or what would have to happen for me to completely allow my pain? What bad thing would happen if the pain truly did go away? To understand more about dis-identification, watch my YouTube video titled “Dis-identification (The Practice of Non Attachment)”.
We are programmed in our current society not to feel. We are conditioned to believe that feeling pain is both unnecessary and a bad thing and that we’ve somehow failed. This attitude fuels all kinds of addictions by convincing us that we must escape the pain as fast as we can. It causes us to resist pain and thus feel even more pain. Next time you feel pain, remind yourself that pain is the catalyst for the true alchemy of life change. It is one of the best things that can happen to you. It is not an indication that something is wrong any more than birthing contractions are an indication that something is wrong. It is an indication that you are expanding transforming and becoming conscious and aware. You are evolving into what you are meant for. You are giving birth to a new self and a new life.


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