The Unexpected Gifts of Pain
Excerpted from The Way of Rest by Jeff Foster
“Why am I still hurting? What is wrong with me?”
Sometimes when you are trying to heal your pain, or forgive it, or release it, or even “accept” it, what you are secretly trying to do is get rid of it. There is resistance there to your present experience. You don’t want this moment to be as it is. This moment is your enemy, your nemesis, even. You want to be someone or somewhere else: a different body, a different life.
You have split yourself in two: me versus my pain.
You see the pain as a block to peace and wholeness, or as some kind of cosmic mistake. It feels like your entire organism is against you, that you have failed, that healing is far away, that you are a victim, a lost cause. Pain is often associated with feelings of failure, abandonment, shame, despair, wrongness. Uncomfortable sensations in the body often become unnecessarily entangled with thought-stories in the mind about a “bad, failed me.”
Please understand this: healing doesn’t necessarily involve the disappearance of pain. No, healing may involve the pain staying, today. Perhaps even intensifying. For healing is not a final destination, but an ever-present invitation to remember who you truly are. It is a call to love, in every moment of our lives. And in love, your pain is not attacked, or denied, or pushed away, but given a home. You are not “in” pain; pain is “in” you, held in the vastness of your love. It is embraced, even honored for what it is: a powerful expression of life itself, however unwanted or unexpected, however intense or uncomfortable. It is not fundamentally against you, but a frightened part of you that desperately wants to be included, held. It is not a threat, but perhaps your greatest teacher, your most powerful call to presence, to life itself.
This is tough love, for sure. An ancient invitation to let go of all your dreams of how today was going to look, and to honor the way today actually is. An invitation to be vast, vast enough to hold joy as well as pain, heartache as well as bliss, the boredom as well as the excitement of life. And perhaps an invitation to gratitude for the life you have led, for each precious breath, for the food you are given, for the ability to love, to forgive, to connect, to find rest in even the darkest places.
Perhaps your pain holds its own original medicine, its own much-needed teachings of slowness and presence, and taking nothing for granted. Do not rush to label it ‘negative’ and seek to transcend or obliterate it. Here’s an invitation to be a little kinder toward it today, however rightly it burns. To not gallop toward its annihilation, but to slow down, get curious, feel its fire, the dignity in its ferocity, its sheer aliveness.
Your pain may be gone tomorrow. That is possible, although we do not want to cling to false hope. We are interested only in truth, Now; pain demands truth, a living truth, the truth of today. So today, we bow before our pain, as long as it is here. We see it as a guest, not a threat.
Presence is the greatest kind of medicine, whatever other kinds of medicine we take or do not take in our search for physical comfort. In Presence, connected to our breathing, feeling our connection with the earth, we cease to be victims, for we are aligned with ‘what is’ on life’s side, surrendered to a brilliant and mystifying universe. And that is what true healing is all about. Embracing Now. Saying yes.
Your pain just may be what healing actually feels like. Your pain may be here to remind you of our courage. Perhaps it’s not supposed to have disappeared yet. Perhaps it still has work to do, medicine to offer.