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How Pain Has Become My Biggest Teacher

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One of my biggest teachers has been staring me in the face for almost my whole life and I’m just now realizing it. Better now than never, right?

Typically we think of a teacher as a human being who has taught us something important. Whether it be learning material in school or a valuable life lesson – we apply these lessons to our lives.

Noun. Physical suffering or discomfort caused by illness or injury.

We have all felt pain. Some of us deal with physical pain; maybe a result of disease or differences in ability. Some of us deal with emotional pain; the loss of a loved one, perhaps. Maybe you have been through a tedious process that has required so much of your attention, it dances between extreme effort and ease. Whatever it may be, I think it’s fair to say that our first instinct is to run from the hurt, put it on pause, do whatever it takes to remove our name from the line-up of pain participants. It’s scary and über uncomfortable.

Pain, in all forms, is my prominent teacher. One that I have not been willing to learn from, until recently. Like most things in life, pain is a dichotomy. When the dark gets darker the light gets lighter. With whatever is bringing you down, find in it what makes you come alive. It’s a balance. The list of the negative emotions that arise alongside pain can go on and on.

Avoidance. Disbelief. Resistance. Frustration. Confusion. Anger. Fear. All of which have seemed to be better options for me in the past. However, the more I turned to the unfavorable actions and emotions above, the more exacerbated the pain became. It was only when I invited my deepest, most intense discomfort in and cultivated the will to feel every ounce of it, no matter where I was or who I was with, that it finally began to ease up. Let it in and let it go.

My avoidance has become tolerance. I have stopped shying away from the feelings that have the potential to label my day as a bad one. Tolerating the feelings removes the label, and allowing the pain to be burning, stabbing, throbbing or downright overwhelming is proof that it is felt. It’s there, yes, and it does not control me. On the days when the physical pain has me so exhausted that the best I can do is be horizontal and nourish my Netflix addiction, I do just that. It isn’t lazy. It is healing.

When feelings of disbelief arise, I turn to hope. A new outlook fueled by the consistent reality that there is nothing I have except what is right now. For me, that is yoga. It’s what I have practiced for over 10 years. Beyond the physical postures of asana, my yoga, right now, is the ebb and flow of sensations in my body and how I choose to react. There is no turning back, so press on. With hope, pain has become not a road block, but a vital building block to a stronger me. The path is never permanently impeded. There is always another way.

No more resistance. Acceptance. It’s walking straight into the mess and recognizing the beauty pain can uncover. Nothing is forever. Some days are just plain awful. Yet those darker days, when I accept them and allow them to be what they are, can reveal the positive. People… opportunities… and the love they uncover, arise. Say yes and go, do, be. Putting effort into what is practical, what can be done allows me to be forward-moving.

So what can I (we) do? In the face of fear, be determined. Pain is a path. It must be traveled, experienced and understood if you want it to pass. The emotions that arise in response are normal. And they aren’t meant to stay. They come in, linger and then leave.

E(motion)s: feelings meant to move through us in motion. I believe it’s best to stop talking yourself out of it, the pain. Allow it to teach you. Don’t place blame and try not to feel badly about current circumstances. You’re never alone. Feelings are to be felt, not suppressed. Be mindful. Acknowledge what is coming up and tend to it with compassion. You don’t need to know why. S l o w d o w n and respond to what your mind and body need. Clarity will follow. Smile, scream, cry, laugh, hug or ask for help. You’re in the driver’s seat. You choose.

Pain and all the baggage that comes with it is something I am really, really good at — no matter what form it arrives in. I expect it, I deny it and I hide it. Now, as a full time student of pain, I am taking full responsibility for my actions (or lack thereof). So I continue to be me – authentic, non-conforming, always challenging the status quo and passionate about human connection. Some of us are put on this earth to walk the path of pain, take what we have learned and break things. Here I am, alongside so many of you, here to eradicate and abolish any and all stereotypes, boundaries and judgments in the face of pain.

When we sit still, watch and just be with what is, we learn. Pain, thank you for being my biggest teacher and opening my eyes and my heart to the magic within the mess.

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Originally published: February 1, 2017
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