I’ve recently been experiencing a lot of pain, grief, and heartbreak.
It’s been one of the most difficult chapters of my life.
As such I’ve been thinking a lot about the experience of pain.
I’d like to share with you a few perspectives that have arisen as a result of this inquiry into the nature of pain.
Consider the following not as firm truths or final conclusions, but simply as ideas to let marinate and percolate.
Take what is useful and resonant for you; let go of the rest.
The Honor of Pain
Consider that pain can be seen as a gift and an honor.
Through your pain Being is experiencing a fuller spectrum of experience: one with more textures, layers, intricacies.
You have been entrusted to bear this pain—a pain that not all could bear. This signals that the innate deep Intelligence of Being has deemed you sufficiently strong and capable of bearing the pain you’re experiencing.
If we consider the Cosmos as a kind of artistic masterwork painted by Being, your pain can be seen as an invitation to explore the full spectrum of the masterwork: the shadows and the secrets hidden therein, not just the light and rainbows.
Surely it is the case that in the depths of shadow we find many of life’s most core-shaking lessons and experiences—the stuff that breaks us open and causes us to deepen, expand.
Your pain is thus an invitation to a more expansive experience of life—a more complete understanding of its many passageways. It’s as if Being is calling out to you, whispering, “Come, don’t be afraid, I want to show you how deep the rabbit hole goes.”
And damn, the rabbit hole goes really fucking deep, as it turns out.
But we should stand tall in the fact that we went there. We ventured down the rabbit hole. We saw with our own eyes the near-invisible contours and rare forms hidden within the shadowy valleys of the masterwork. And we returned to tell the tale.
Pain is an opportunity to stand up as a noble warrior, stare into the darkness, and say, “Yes, I see that I am being called to go into this darkness. This is what I must do now, so be it. I will accept this fate, I will explore this cavern, and I will see what life wishes to show me.”
It is an unutterable blessing to be presented with the opportunity to embody this warrior archetype, this noble energy. It is an opportunity to be courageous and to discover new reserves of strength within one’s heart.
To embody this warrior archetype does not mean to be cold or detached in the face of pain. To the contrary, it is to go into the pain, surrender to it, truly feel its full potency and taste its textures. This is how we can ultimately let it go.
In the midst of this process, we can discover a newfound tenderness toward ourselves, witnessing our own sensitivity, vulnerability, and bravery with eyes of compassion and admiration. We can see that on some level we are still soft, frightened children, and yet simultaneously we can see that we’ve become much more. In this observation we can discover a more all-encompassing love and appreciation for ourselves—a sense of great dignity in who we are.
Through these trials and shadows we also gain an ever larger capacity to connect to the other side of the coin: the light and joy of existence.
“The wound is the place where the Light enters you,” as Rumi wrote.
In a similar vein, Carl Jung once wrote that, “No tree, it is said, can grow to heaven unless its roots reach down to hell.”
There is something sacred and mysterious in the dance of dark and light, in life’s apparent duality. The two poles are deeply intertwined; through some strange alchemy they fuel and give rise to one another. It seems we cannot truly know one side of the equation if we do not know the other.
As suggested by the Yin and Yang symbol, these poles of pain and joy ultimately form an inseparable union. Many have suggested that from a higher-dimensional perspective, the apparent duality of light and dark melts away, as both are revealed to be disguises worn by the One Great Thing: the All, the Tao, God, choose your metaphor. When the disguises are cast off, all is revealed as the same fundamental Divinity, engaged in an eternal game of hide and seek, forgetting and remembering itself so as to experience its limitless potentials.
Many yearn to break through to this higher-dimensional perspective—to truly and permanently perceive the union of supposed opposites and the Divine Okay-ness of every experience, of everything in existence. In this way, many yearn to transcend the oh-so-human experience of duality, of terrible pain.
I’m not sure this can be done. I know, I know, I’ve heard about the Buddha and such, but I suspect he still felt like shit sometimes. However, I also realize the Buddha spoke of liberation from dukkha, which is commonly translated as “suffering” but which more accurately signifies “unsatisfactoriness.” So maybe he wasn’t talking about the end of pain, but rather the end of feeling dissatisfied with the fact of our pain—the end of feeling as if pain is a problem, something not-okay. I don’t know.
It seems to me that as human beings living in a world of apparent duality, we are destined to experience a lot of pain. Destined to spend a few decades as apertures through which Being is exploring the full spectrum of its potentialities, every nook and cranny of its masterwork.
Perhaps our destiny is ultimately to find our way along the upward-spiraling path until we reach that mythical state of pure Remembrance and Reunion with Being, transcending our earthly pain, or at least coming to see it as Divinely Okay.
Until then, we’re here. We’re human. We’re in the trenches. And sometimes it hurts. A lot.
But we do have a choice in how we choose to bear this pain: We can be dragged into it, kicking and screaming and resisting and growing bitter and resentful.
Or we can stand tall and accept it nobly, with a warrior spirit. We can walk straight into the fire to feel the kiss of the flames and find out how they wish to re-forge us.
If you appreciated this post, I highly recommend the books, When Things Fall Apart: Heart Advice for Difficult Times, by Pema Chodron, and Letting Go: The Pathway to Surrender by David Hawkins.