Where does your mind go when you think of pain?
There are so many ways in which we try to escape from, fix, cure, change, or avoid pain. Our relationship to pain is both a fascinating and inescapable one. Unlike joy, happiness, peace, or even love, pain is something that every single human being on this planet has personal experience with. For this reason, it is actually one of the most universal vehicles for connection available to us.
Think about it, not every person will experience love in their lifetime. Not everyone knows what it’s like to feel at peace. And although it might be natural for you to understand what happiness feels like, that is not the case for everyone. There are many people in this world who will never experience some of the emotions that seem like such a natural part of daily life to you. But among all these stands one feeling that every single human has a definition for, a memory of, and a relationship with. As soon as we are born, we experience the pain of our lungs popping open with our first breath. Pain teaches us about preferences and self-preservation. It informs our character daily.
And yet, we spent so much of our energy, time, and money on trying to find ways to relieve and get rid of our pain. This cycle is continuous, a never-ending search for life without pain. And although we know that pain is an inevitability, for some reason we refuse to accept what that means in relation to our pursuit of a painless life. Even if you are insatiably seeking a life with minimal pain, your focus is still pointed in the wrong direction.
The less pain you have in your life, the more you will seek to get rid of it. During my 12 years of intimate daily life with nonstop chronic pain, the idea that pain is our companion was introduced to me through one simple question. Instead of trying to solve my pain, what if I became intimate with it?
As soon as I allowed myself to explore this question, my mind instantly opened to a world of possibilities and options for how to interact with the pain that I had never considered before. I became curious, what might happen if instead of studying my pain for the purpose of getting rid of it or even minimizing it, I instead got to know it for the simple sake of becoming intimate with this fundamental aspect of my humanity. The freedom that this gave me, became more and more apparent the deeper I explored.
After a few years of this approach, I realized that although it was freeing for me to begin cultivating non-attachment to my own suffering, what was even more freeing was becoming unattached to hoping for a cured or other states of being from that in which I already was. In other words, yes it helps us be at peace when we stop dwelling on or attaching to our suffering, but there is no freedom there if we are still constantly desiring a healed state (an other, more perfect state of being). All this is continued to slavery to the pursuit of perfection. The pursuit of being something other than what we are, human. Instead, I chose to embark on complete freedom from wanting something that I, in those moments, could not have. My body was not ready to be pain-free, and it might never be, but I no longer had to suffer in the hamster wheel of seeking a pain-free life. My pain is no longer a prison for me to escape. My pain is a vehicle of understanding and connection with humanity; mine and others’. My pain is a magnifier of my appreciation and gratitude for every day that I get to live. And my pain is a reminder that I am not alone in this world and I am not othered.
Does this mean that I stopped finding ways to alleviate moments of intense pain? Absolutely not. Actually, because I let go of the distraction of trying to cure and fix my pain, I became much more skilled at listening openly and receptively to the qualities and defining characteristics of my physical pain. This process has allowed me to enjoy an evolving relationship to my pain where I am able to support myself more fully when it is at its highest activity. And because I am no longer obsessed with trying to fix it or get rid of it, I can recognize and laugh at the incredible extremes that I physically endure on a daily basis.
Just last week I was really sick, I had a fever for three days straight just as many of you are experiencing right now during the winter. After mentoring all week on Friday night I hosted and performed at a Latinx party in NYC. I danced, sang, played drums and DJ’ed for four hours into the morning. The next day, I woke up, ate breakfast, walked back to my room and ended up on the floor unable to move for over an hour. My back wouldn’t allow me to get up. The pain was too intense. Was I upset because I was experiencing such a gnarly flare up of physical pain? No, instead I was laughing my ass off at the fact that one night I could be performing in my sexy jumper and the next morning be on the ground immobile looking the least sexy I’ve looked in a long time. I was eventually able to crawl into my bed, but I was not able to stand up for another six hours. On Sunday, it was as if none of that had even happened.
Nothing in life is guaranteed. We are born and we don’t know why. We move through life reflecting the programs we learn when we were young (that are not even our choice to learn) and we spend the rest of our lives either repeating those programs or endeavoring on a path of increasing self intimacy that inherently involves chosen evolution through reprogramming.
Our freedom lies not in the presence of endeavoring for a specific solution to our humanity, our freedom exists in living out the fullest chosen expression of our human experience. When you’re hurting, connect to others and with yourself. The next time you’re in the throes of pain and suffering, try going through a list of your closest friends and family and sending them random messages reminding them how much you love them and why. They’ll love it, and it will take your focus off of yourself and give your pain a purpose beyond your own suffering. Your pain is a powerful reminder of your connections to the world and of your own ability to thrive. Your pain is a reminder that you are human and an invitation to fall in love with what that means.