Do Not Waste Your PainBy:
Wouldn’t it be great it we could simply throw our pain away? We could box it up, seal it tight, and ship it off to the moon and beyond…anywhere where we wouldn’t need to come in contact with it again. Because pain is…well, painful, and naturally our human mind is averse to most types of pain, physical and/or emotional.
We often spend an inordinate amount of time trying to escape pain’s heavy grasp (aversion), even with all of our first-world privileges. Yet what is certain is that pain and suffering are not classist. They do not discriminate and are an equal opportunity emotion.
Each day, we encounter countless emotions. Joy, fear, anticipation, yearning, greed, lust, happiness, and so on. But few impact us as directly and quickly as pain. Whether we stub our toe or get divorce papers from our spouse, pain sends us an inescapable signal. As different emotions greet us throughout our day, we are reminded by the mystic Rumi in his poem “The Guest House” that being human is a guest house, and every day there are new arrivals. Joy, depression, meanness, some momentary awareness comes as an unexpected visitor and we should welcome and entertain them all! Each has been sent as a “gift from beyond.”
Which takes us to the idea of pain. We’re supposed to welcome it? Really? As a gift from beyond?
This begs the question: Is there an intrinsic gift in pain? Is there a jewel to be found in the dung heap? It’s an intriguing notion that pain should not be wasted. Instead of running from it, what if we were to find ways to use it constructively? What if, after all these years, we have been wasting our pain?
Where do we waste our pain? We waste our pain any time we are in addiction. We waste our pain anytime we allow anger to boil up and cause internal and external damage. We waste our pain every time we decide to not sit down and face it—to look it squarely in its dark eyes and ask why it has arrived at our door. We waste our pain, at least I know I waste my pain, every time we neglect to see the pain as a guide from beyond.
This strange, beautiful, needy cluster of stardust, water and minerals we call a human body is just a guest house. A host. A temporary shelter. It only lasts so long. And the strange thing is is that though we, as the mystics and sages point out, must learn to transcend our bodies, ironically, they also show us that we must learn to do that by first mastering our bodies. Thus, as yogis, all of our experiences become vital. Generally speaking, the body never lies. It is always signaling to us. It is up to us to try to figure out what it is saying.
But staying open and present in the face of pain can challenge us to our core. In the end, shutting down rarely offers anything more than temporary, illusory relief, or worse, increased suffering. If we choose a “spiritual” path, we must keep facing our challenges and stay vulnerable, which we all seem to collectively hate, this vulnerability thing, because it’s like someone has their finger, a wet finger, in our ear canal. Eeewww. We hate it.
But spirituality doesn’t make sense. Enlightenment isn’t usually a pretty path, either. So for those of us who have this strange yearning to awaken, it takes us directly back into our pain. Sitting with it. Not trying to solve it or rescue ourselves or be in charge. We sit. We feel. We crack open. We allow ourselves just to be. Then, maybe, the deeper message, the gift from beyond, can be felt.
Is this what spirituality really is, to be able to allow ourselves to just let life be what it actually is, rather that what we actually want? What an epic journey to sit and just observe. I now know why some spiritually-minded people end up drinking (that was humor). But I also know why some seem to have a radiant beauty that cannot be put into words. They may seem a bit tired, sure. But there is a power in their eyes. You can feel it. You can feel they have not wasted their pain. A strange, ineffable, steely beauty lives in them. As Elisabeth Kubler-Ross says, beautiful people don’t just happen. They have used their pain. They have used it as a fire of awareness to burn away all that really doesn’t need to be there.
Will Donnelly is a nationally recognized, certified yoga teacher and writer, and is the author of “Practical Yoga’s Wisdom for Everyday People: Essays & Inspiration for Life" (2017), a compilation of his most popular online essays now available at amazon.com. Will has been a pioneer in the field of yoga, developing Practical Yoga, and co-creating a yoga–reality series for fitTV (Discovery Communications, 2004). As a writer and teacher, Will encourages all students to trust their impulses and find their true voice. Will currently lives in Hawaii, where he leads weekly yoga and writing classes at Kalani retreat center. He also leads several popular Practical Yoga adventure and healing retreats throughout the year. Information on retreats, his book, DVDs and other inspiration to be found at WillsPracticalYoga.com