And just like that, the inspiration left me – it’s been days since I last wrote. It’s like I needed the pain to motivate me to write…but no, the pain itself is not inspirational. It’s growing through the pain that inspired me to write, and so once again I must have grown today, or I wouldn’t be writing. There’s a certain feeling I get when I push through something that’s been stopping me; more often than not, it’s some blockage within myself. It feels like I’m finally back in touch with my true self, like there have been cobwebs draped over my eyes and they’ve just been brushed away, revealing a vibrancy in the world that I had previously missed. I see all the colours again, I smell all the odours of the world, I hear all the sounds. I hear myself.
I was trained and indoctrinated to believe that pain is a bad thing, something detrimental, something to be avoided. This isn’t something that was explicitly taught to me, it’s something that was implied in the background of many conversations. It’s built into the context of our society, our collective mentality. It’s the reason we have a culture of people looking for magic pills and quick solutions to every type of problem. It’s the source of addiction and the reason for much grief and suffering in the world: the avoidance and fear of pain. The problem is, pain in and of itself isn’t our enemy. Pain, like most feelings, is a signifier of something else. When we’re injured, it’s pain that gets our attention and tells us, “hey, there’s a problem here, you should take a look at this.”
Pain is not something we can completely avoid in our lifetimes, at least not without drastic consequences. What happens if a serious wound is simply medicated with painkillers? The pain may dissipate, but the wound itself will fester, become gangrenous, and maybe even cause death. The same goes for emotional pain, and dare-I-say spiritual pain. If we ignore it, if we try to run from it or avoid it or numb it out, we’re bound to suffer more dire consequences than the experience of the pain itself.
I spent many years of my life trying to run from and numb out my pain without knowing it. The pain of loneliness, of thinking there was something wrong with me, the pains of growing up. Emotional pains of an often unhappy household and the pains of not knowing how to deal with my fears and insecurities. Eventually I found substances that could help me forget my pain, help me feel a little better for the moment or at the very least numb out my emotions entirely. I can’t honestly say I wouldn’t have gone on drinking and getting high on a daily basis if the substances kept working for me, but they didn’t. My new-found solutions turned into problems of their own. And when all the smoke cleared and the dust settled, when I was alone with myself at the end of the day, I found that my pain had multiplied immensely.
I had started out running from something and as the years passed by I forgot what I was running from. When I finally had the courage to start facing my demons and chose to get sober (which I could not have done without a tremendous amount of help), I was left confused and disoriented as to my place in the world. I didn’t know who I was, and I didn’t have the faintest clue as to what my problems really were. By the grace of God, people were put in my path that helped guide me and taught me how to live again, without the drugs and alcohol. I owe my life to people who gave of themselves so that I could learn to stand again on my own two feet.
The point of this story is that I ran from pain, tried to numb emotions and thoughts that I found difficult to deal with, and as a result of doing this over a prolonged period of time, my world fell apart. Only now, after years of work on myself and much soul-searching, am I beginning to see the true purpose of emotions and the constructive role that pain can play. Sometimes emotions are just that – emotions. They don’t necessarily mean anything on their own. Conversely, if certain feelings persist over time, especially unpleasant ones, it’s worth beginning to inquire as to why. A lot of the time I know my ego can get in the way of what’s really going on with me, telling me everything is cool and good and I’ve got it all handled. That’s usually when the unconscious begins to stir, begins communicating to me with emotions, dreams, or bodily aches and pains, and that’s when I need to start paying more attention to my soul.
I’ve been taught that the greatest source of human suffering is resistance to painful experiences. Perhaps because we are either hardwired or conditioned to avoid pain, when we feel unpleasant emotions we resist them in any way we can. Often mental resistance is at play, and as such we experience normal human emotions (sadness, for example) as sources of tremendous suffering. We as human beings have the uncanny ability to intellectualize and analyze ourselves and our emotions, and we can often create mountains out of ant-hills in our minds. I know that I can do this quite regularly, and when I’m not mindful of it I manufacture a lot of misery for myself.
I still do believe, however, that our emotions serve a purpose. Pain occurs for reasons, even if we sometimes aren’t aware what those reasons are. The first and most important thing I’m learning is that we need be OK with the pain itself – don’t fight it, don’t resist it. If we can do that, then we can actually begin to look for the source of the pain, instead of spending energy trying to alleviate suffering. And when we can be with the pain, we can learn what it’s trying to tell us and we have the opportunity for growth. And then we can be inspired by life once again.