Transcending Pain

On the planet of Eliria there is no pain. The Elirians are troubled by what they find here on Earth. Tirini says of the humans they have brought to their ship to heal, “They speak of pain. We feel their pain, but we of Eliria do not have pain of our own. We did not know of pain until we came here.”

And Clara, the human, exclaims, “What a blessed life you have!”

Indeed.

I believe that pain is probably the most difficult of the challenges of being incarnate on planet Earth.

Acute short-term pain can be intense, but it passes, we heal, and go on. Long- term pain is another matter.

It isolates. When we are in pain, we don’t have the energy and it hurts too much to go out and connect. Our pain can become so central in our consciousness that we find it difficult to speak of anything else, but complaining is a serious turn-off to those around us.

We find ourselves in survival mode. How can I get through this day? this night? Nights can be the hardest of all when pain denies us even the rest we so sorely need. We wonder, is it worth it to keep struggling?

I recently went through two years of acute sciatic pain. I am now gratefully functional again, but it was the toughest thing I’ve been through in my long life. During those two difficult years, I gradually crafted a survival code:

  1. Don’t complain. Ask for help only if I truly need it, and then be specific about exactly what help I need. Never dump the whole misery on anyone.
  2. Don’t freak out. Fear makes the pain worse, much worse.
  3. Show up. Keep all appointments and social engagements unless I truly can’t. Stay connected.

But that was only a survival code, and I am seeking to discover how we can transcend the challenges of Earthly incarnation. How can we live with pain in a sacred manner? How bring light out of such misery?

I confess I don’t know. I made it out the end of the tunnel, and I do believe I am wiser for the experience, but I’m not sure exactly how. I have only a few clues.

One is to keep hope alive. Change is the only constant. Miracles do happen. A year and a half ago, in the depths of my pain, I never dreamed I would walk in the high country or dance the tango again. And now I can.

Another is to live in gratitude. I learned to give thanks for the most basic gifts of my life—a comfortable chair, a hot bath, a warm bed, a roof over my head, food—and most of all for the friends who stood by me even before I learned not to complain. Every time we stop and give thanks, there is less space in our consciousness for pain.

Perhaps most important is the discipline of staying present. The Buddhists make a distinction between pain and suffering. Pain is a physical sensation. Simply that. Suffering happens when we fall into fear, exacerbating the physical pain with emotional freakout and mental anguish, projecting whole mess onto an infinite future.

When we stay with the present moment, there is only the sensation of pain. Then perhaps we can expand our awareness to include our breath. Then our surroundings. The softness of our bed, or if we can go outside—which always helped me—the color of the sky, the earth underfoot, the smell of the air, the feel of the wind. The more we include in our present moment awareness, the less space there is for pain.

What clues have you found that help you transcend pain? I would welcome your sharing.

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