Today I’m writing about a topic that may not seem all that enticing at first glance: pain.

However I feel strongly that our relationship with pain can make or break our capacity to live a peaceful happy life.

Pain and pleasure are two ends of a spectrum with which we evaluate our experiences as human beings. It’s pretty clear that we are pleasure seekers, which is not a problem in and of itself. However, honestly, with all our attempts to have as much pleasure as possible how much do we actually truly experience? Might it be time to re-examine our relationship with pleasure and pain?

One of the common attitudes nowadays is that we consciously or unconsciously try to create pleasure not for pleasure’s sake but in an attempt to avoid pain. When we do this there will eventually be pain within the so-called pleasurable experience: for example health issues that come from avoiding painful emotions with food, relationship issues that come from avoiding pain with substances, financial issues that result from avoiding painful feelings by purchasing material things, and so on. Also, when we don’t have a healthy relationship with pain there is a strong tendency to project it onto others and to blame external circumstances for our problems rather than to learn and grow from pain, which is its purpose.

177100I’m reminded of the yin-yang symbol where the opposite ends of a spectrum are contained within each other. Two intertwined tear drops, and within each is contained the other. If we cling to one and avoid the other, life puts us back into balance. Many wise people have noted that no matter what we do, life is half pain and half pleasure. This might seem depressing within our current pleasure-seeking paradigm, but again, check your actual experience and see if this is not actually true, regardless of what you’ve been trying to create. In addition, if you took away the painful half of your current pain/pleasure spectrum, that half would immediately divide itself into a new pain/pleasure spectrum. In other words experiences are only pleasant or painful in the context of other experiences. We experience things by comparison.

Pain and pleasure are our navigation system. Our trajectory on the highest and most authentic life path has been laid out for us and when we meet pain and pleasure consciously they help us to make choices that are aligned with our true nature and our Life’s path. As we become more open to fully feeling both pain and pleasure they give us intuitive information that, like a gentle hand, guides us back onto our true path. The more we do this, the less extreme the feelings of pleasure and pain have to be to get our attention and life takes on a calm, alive, kind and nurturing feel.

If we are highly sensitive, acknowledging both pain and pleasure, can make all the difference in the world. For us, it’s disorienting to be around situations where there is clearly pain, because we feel it in our bodies, but where others don’t seem to be noticing or at least aren’t letting on.  It can be particularly challenging for children who tend to be quite open, and many can internalize these experiences by believing there is something wrong with them, because by all accounts they are the only ones noticing pain. Once we recognize the accuracy of our feelings we are better able to make choices that feel nurturing and authentic, and are able to respond to others in a truthful and compassionate way.

Personally, more and more, I find pain to be perfectly fine, and in fact there’s a freedom and joy in acknowledging it. Once we are ready to be with pain and pleasure just as they are we can relax the energetic and physical tension that comes from pushing one away and grasping at the other. Such a relief!

The energy that we have been using to avoid pain then gets freed up and transmuted into a sense of well-being, inspiration, lightness, creativity and openness, all of course quite pleasurable! But be forewarned don’t hold onto this pleasure, it will surely lead to pain. Why? Because stagnation is painful to the soul: Life wants you to keep growing, it has so much in store for you, and change is part of the process.

Here are some simple things you can do to create a healthy relationship with pain:

  • Drop your attention into your body as often as possible over the course of the day.
  • Notice how pain feels, and do your best to open to it.
  • Make friends with pain.
  • Ask it what it needs, and be open to outside help.
  • If you have a regular spiritual practice, allow pain to show up when it does and give it all the space it needs to express itself.
  • Notice Presence: the part of you that is able to stay fully open to your experience.
  • You may find some helpful free guided meditations here:
  • Check out my two home study meditation courses: Channel of Peace, and The Way of Relationship

I’m pleased to invite you to a few upcoming offerings where we create a healthy and nourishing relationship with our whole self:

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