Findthe joy in pain, says Galina Pembroke.
It is easy to be happy and calm, to have a sense ofoverall wellness, when things are going smoothly. Butwhat about when things aren't going the way we'dlike? Worse, what about when everything that can gowrong does go wrong? How do we find the meaning, andeven the joy, in life when it seems to work againstus and not for us?
Tackling Fear of Pain
Emotional pain challenges us to review our conceptof what is painful. Much pain is dependent on perception.When we find meaning in our pain and welcome the growthit brings, pain transforms. Some experience this asapathy, others peace; still others, wisdom. Yet whatif our pain seems chronic and unchanging?
All pain is dependent on perspective. If we wantedour pain it would no longer be called pain; it wouldbe pleasure-masochistic pleasure, to be specific. Itis our resistance to pain that makes it pain. Part ofour resistance is fear of what we don't want.Whenever we get something we don't want, by thevery fact that we didn't want it, we'veallowed something to happen or something has happenedbeyond our control to allow it to happen: something,often, that we were afraid of.
Fear is a useless emotion because it creates the verysame avoidance it will grow in. Avoidance tells ourbrain there is a genuine threat, even if we are onlyputting off cleaning the house because we are intimidatedby the work involved. Avoidance always makes thing moredifficult in the long run. The threat seems to growlarger and larger until it overwhelms us. What do wedo about this? This situation can be avoided throughtackling our fears as they present themselves. No moreprocrastination.
Fear thrives in resistance. If we could accept, evenwelcome, whatever came our way then we would eliminatefear. Fear is a lack of trust, both in the universeand in our own ability to handle things. Fear is alsoavoidance of discomfort. Experiences we don'twant are far from comfortable. Due to this, wheneverwe tackle and fight on through an uncomfortable situationwe heighten our tolerance of discomfort. This is oneof the many hidden benefits of painful situations. Inlearning to tolerate discomfort, we become stronger,more sympathetic people. We have empathy for otherswho have suffered. Plus, when we are able to move successfullythrough discomfort we can inspire others.
From Pain to Love
Since emotional pain is subjective and no situationor state is static, viewing our pain as infinite andunchanging is a fallacy of the human mind. Pain willend. Meanwhile, wallowing in self pity excuses us fromfulfilling our full potential.
We don't need to wallow when we can soar. Noperson deserves to suffer, and self pity creates moreof the suffering we bemoan. Why do we do this? It isodd how some of the kindest people extend to othersthe compassion they will not give themselves. If thewords "kindest people" leads you to thinkof others, look within. We often are our own worst criticsand have qualities such as kindness that we are unawareof.
Pain can be the gateway for your change. Let yourexperience of pain tell you how well you are treatingyourself. If you are undergoing any long term emotionalpain such as chronic or recurring anxiety or depression,it is essential that you step back and evaluate yourself care. Do you treat yourself with the same careand respect you give those you love the most? Do youattend to your desires the way you would a helplessbaby, and view yourself with the same adoration youhad for the first person you ever had a crush on? Ifthe answer is no, it's not too late. Start today.A rise in anxiety or depression is a call that demandsan answer. Those without the pain experience can ignoretheir own needs and desires without response, but ina pain based situation we cannot. The necessity of copingthrough self love, and the rewards this brings, is oneof the gifts of suffering.
Pain Improves our Lifestyle
Improving the way we treat ourselves will reward uswith a better mood and less stress. Yet healing emotionalpain requires a multifaceted approach. We need morethan Kleenex and a bubble bath. A change in how we seethings is also required. Cultivating a view that allowsus to move through and/or find peace with our pain canbe done many ways. One that's proved effectiveis also quite simple. Simple, but by no means easy.
Mindfulness is a form of Buddhist meditation in whichthoughts and physical sensations are observed withoutjudgement. Attention without analysis allows us a directexperience that takes us into the now. It also improvesmood. Speaking on findings published in a 2007 issueof Psychosomatic Medicine, researchscientist David Creswell stated: "We found themore mindful you are, the more activation you have inthe right ventrolateral prefrontal cortex and the lessactivation you have in the amygdala…These findingsmay help explain the beneficial health effects of mindfulnessmeditation, and suggest, for the first time, an underlyingreason why mindfulness meditation programs improve moodand health." (1)
Scientific explanations aside, mindfulness makes sense.When we are emotional everything is subjective. Mindfulnesshelps us detach. With mindfulness we can enjoy our awarenessinstead of being upset by it. We are not meant to suffer.Events and emotions we don't want are inevitable,but our reaction to them is a choice. Practice of mindfulnessallows us to realise this. This gives us new feelingsof empowerment.
Pain can move us into activities and practices ordinarilyof no interest to us. For some this might be mindfulnesspractice, for others it may be art or music. In givingus the inspiration to change our activities to thosethat will reward us even after the setback ends, painfulevents and feelings are a gift.
Not minding what happens
If we want to be comfortable and serene we need tostop viewing experiences as good or bad. Obviously,there are some experiences (death, natural disasters,violent crime) that we will always want to avoid. Yetoutside of these extreme events, the annoyances of ourdaily lives simply just are. Developing an attitudeof neutrality, whether through meditation or otherwise,goes a long way towards nurturing peace. Neutrality,when experienced, feels to some like happy apathy. Anextremely neutral attitude can help us immeasurablyon our spiritual quest. In fact, J Krishnamurti, thegreat Indian philosopher and spiritual teacher, saidthat his secret was: "I don't mind whathappens." (2) What if we could cultivate thisattitude? Wouldn't life be easier if we stoppedyearning for certain objects and experiences?
Although Krishnamurti was a Hindu, this philosophyis very Buddhist. In fact, it is the second Noble Truthof Buddhism – that craving and the search forstability is the root of all suffering. As such, partof any experience that causes us suffering is that wedon't want it. We want something else. Sometimeswe want anything else. It's only when we movefrom simply tolerating our circumstances to acceptanceand eventual gratitude that we find peace.
From Acceptance to Gratitude
How can we find gratitude for our setbacks and misfortunes?To some the idea may seem preposterous. Laughable even,if you can still laugh. Yet gratitude is necessary ifwe are to heal from pain and move ahead. Resentmentabout our situation will only trap us in self pity.Although it may be hard at times to find the positivein our experience, if we are honest and humble we alwayscan.
Sometimes we won't get what we want. We canaccept this or we can fight it. Despite our desiresthere are multiple externals in life that we can'tcontrol. The key to peace and joy when these externalsdon't suit us is to cultivate gratitude. The alternativeis self pity. We cannot feel gratitude and self pitysimultaneously. We have to choose. The ego will haveus choose self pity. Self pity is indulgent and excessive.It traps us in self centered negativity. Gratitude,on the contrary, is positive and modest. Whenever we"count our blessings" we are affirming thatalthough life isn't always good, lifealways has good in it.
When we don't get what we want, or somethinghappens that stops us from being whom or where we wantto be, we may want to crawl into bed and pull the coversover our head. Still we must emerge. We emerge alive.We have a roof over our head and running water. If westand up it means we are strong and healthy enough tostand. This is important. This matters. This is thestarting point for a beautiful life.
Can we be happy about what we have left? Can we givethanks for who we are instead of who we are not? Thisrequires much self love, which is something gratitudefosters. Yet to love our life we must love ourselves.If we can do this we can give our difficult times purpose.We can look inward and smile at all that we are. Wecan stop judging ourselves. This is no longer a luxury;it is an obligation. If we don't love ourselvesnow we will not be strong enough to go on now. Selflove gives us strength. Appreciating ourselves and ourlives, even when it seems impossible, is the key tofinding joy again. Genuine joy. This is the deep, authenticjoy that comes when you realise that life can alwaysbe happy when you alone determine what happiness is.It is here, now. Take it. You deserve it.
Some of us don't regard gratitude as an option.We feel it will never be an option. When this happenswhat do we do? Despite ourselves, we will benefit fromour experience. Why? Because the experience of painis stronger than our resentment towards it. Eventuallywe will emerge from numbness and feel this pain, andfeeling this pain gives birth to future unlimited emotionaland spiritual expansion. We feel, and in response wechange. Very often this change produces growth.
"Spiritual growth does not come without effort,and effort and change often mean pain" says BrotherAnandamoy in The Psychology of The Soul: An Interviewwith Brother Anandamoy. (3) For somepeople this may come as a shock. We undertake our spiritualjourney to feel better. Yet experience andfeelings will come along that we will fight to not seeas negative, and when we feel these experiences we emergebetter people. We learn about life. We are challengedto re-evaluate what security and happiness really are.Are they inherent in a situation or feeling or determinedby our perception? If the latter, when pain occurs weare called upon to change our view, to expand our wayof thinking and find meaning in our experience. Thisis spiritual growth. Like Brother Anandomy said, thisgrowth requires effort and change. Yet if we challengeourselves to appreciate how pain is necessary for spiritualgrowth, we will become wiser and deeper people.
Smiling Through Our Tears
Our insistence on refusing experiences through avoidanceor emotional numbing limits us. We cannot feel happinessif we are unwilling to feel its counterparts. Welcomingexperiences we don't want turns them into experienceswe accept. It is this acceptance of the things we can'tchange that brings serenity. Too, when we know thatwe can handle anything, we have freedom from fear. Thisis a type of peace unavailable when we only have andseek experiences and emotions we define as pleasant.
Pain can change us for the better if we let it. Itcan motivate us to improve our lifestyle, our self talkand self care. It can challenge us to gain strengthand perspective through acceptance and gratitude. Indeed,pain can move us from trying to control our feelingsand experiences to an attitude of surrender and humility.We are who and where we are meant to be now, as is whatwe are now feeling and experiencing in this eternalnow. Eternal, because it is always now. Only now canwe want what we have. We can open ourselves to all theopportunities we never wanted, now. Most valuable amongthese is the ever present prospect of growth, peaceand wisdom.
Galina Pembroke is an internationally published writerspecialising in health, self-help and spiritual growth.www.galinawrites.com
1. Neurological reason for doing mindfulness meditation.News-Medical.Net . June 24 2007. 2008 News-Medical.Net Retreived April 18, 2007. http://www.news-medical.net/?id=26828
2. Tolle, Eckhart. Not Minding What Happens. P-198.A New Earth: Awakening to Your Life's Purpose.New York: Penguin Group. 2005.
3. Anandamoy, Brother. The Psychology of the Soul:An Interview with Brother Anandamoy.
Secondary Source: Welshons, John E. When Prayers Aren'tAnswered. New World Library. 2007.