When Pain Arises

When Pain Arises

The Union Path Podcast

"When Pain Arises"


It can be easy to think, it can be easy to assume that the spiritual path is all easy, it is all simple, it is all lovely, it is all pleasant, it entirely feels good, it entirely is uplifting in nourishing, in rewarding. There is a sublime pleasure buried in all of it, just waiting for us to experience it. But of course, if we have gone down this path, we know this isn't true. But sure, there are elements to the spiritual path and spiritual seeking that can be really enjoyable, that can be really gratifying, that can really feel good, can almost have a bit of a euphoric sense to them sometimes. But there are other times that walking this path is really challenging. Because, ultimately, what are we asking for when we walk down the spiritual path? We want to know the truth, we want to know what is actually happening, we want to know how things actually are, that, for whatever reason, we just aren't satisfied with what we currently know. We aren't satisfied with the lessons and the knowings and the traditions that have been handed to us. We need to know for ourselves, we need to embark on some sort of journey, some sort of journey of discovery, so that we can know, so that we can know for ourselves, so that we can experience for ourselves how things actually are. And that a lot of times, when we start down this path, that euphoria that we feel, that uplifting, that we feel that sense of getting lighter, that sense of getting freer a lot of times that's the sense of us dropping our own resistance, that's the sense of us getting out of our own way, that's us stopping the constant criticism that we run through our own minds directed at ourselves. That's us finally stopping pushing so hard, resisting so much, that we get to more of a basic sense of being. And that really is one of the most gratifying and useful realizations that we can have that the root of being, that the root of our being, actually feels good, actually is good, that underneath everything, underneath all of our opinions, all of our thoughts, all of our behavior, all of our actions, all of our dissatisfactions, all of our judgments, everything that goes on in our mind, once we can finally get underneath all of that, once we can finally experience the full version of reality without our own commentary track running over the top of it, we realize that life really is pleasant, life really is a nice, life really does feel good. It feels good just to be alive and in my opinion, this leads us to a broader awareness that we can apply more globally that, if it feels good to be alive, maybe the things that I want that feel good are things that I'm actually supposed to do, are things that I'm actually supposed to experience and include in my own life. Maybe there's more to this idea that I actually am supposed to feel good, that things are supposed to feel good, that that shouldn't be an anomaly, that that shouldn't be the exception. Life isn't all about toil and strain and struggle and strife. That on some level, that on a basic level, life actually feels good. In things that add to our life that feel good also are worthwhile pursuits.

And a lot of this journey, a lot of this exploration, is really defining what this word good means, because a lot of us are brought up, a lot of us are raised thinking that gratification, especially from a sensory perspective, or things that materially gratify us, are the things that we actually seek. But we realize that that version of good isn't really as good as it could be or isn't really as good as we think it is. It's kind of thin, it's kind of hollow, it doesn't really last, it doesn't really penetrate. That a lot of these superficial goods are superficial because they really only exist on the surface that if we or anyone else penetrates deeper, if we endeavor to look a little bit deeper, then that value very quickly wears off. It isn't quite as useful, it isn't quite as important anymore. But when we start down the spiritual path again, it's often not all roses and sunshine.

Because if what we're endeavoring after is the truth, then the truth that we may run across and the truth that we may experience and have to really reconcile with, really wrestle with sometimes, is that we're actually carrying around quite a bit of pain and this pain is strong enough. Sometimes this can be the first thing or the first major thing that really presents itself. Then, when we're walking around with a lot of pain, even though we do our best to avoid it and though we do our best to ignore it, even if we do our best to distract ourselves with all sorts of different behaviors, all sorts of different activities, all sorts of different types of consumption, all sorts of myriad ways that we can distract ourselves everything from overworking to overeating, to overdoing and once we stop all that, once we can really get underneath all of that activity, all of those furious attempts to distract and we start to become aware of pain that can be extremely uncomfortable, because there's something about pain that feels a bit like a hot stove that we've either been conditioned or we've conditioned ourselves to avoid it, never, ever touch it and stay away from it. So, intuitively, if we know that this pain is there, we may have set up these patterns to distract and avoid. We may find it reflected in our personality, we may find it reflected in our pursuits. And once we really start to dive a little bit deeper and realize there's pain there, one of the realizations that can come right after that is all the ways that we try to avoid pain throughout our lives, all the ways we try to compensate for it, all the ways we try to negate it in this way or that. And once we kind of tune into that frequency of pain, we can see what else resonates with that frequency as well, that once we really start to excavate down to this pain, we can start to see what else is there. We can start to see our own activity and our own behavior a little bit more clearly, a little bit more objectively, because even though there's a million people talking about a million things, it's my opinion anyway, that a lot of us don't really have very highly developed skills in dealing with pain, that as a culture, as an American culture, we'd really rather never talk about it, we'd really rather never deal with it, we'd really just rather pretend that pain doesn't really exist, that everything is about success and thriving and gaining and being the best version of ourselves all the time.

Our culture is far more about achievement and a word and admiration than it is about acknowledging things like pain. We go to great lengths to celebrate people's achievements, but we can often overlook the achievement of dealing with pain, because that in and of itself is an achievement that in and of itself can radically change a person's life. It's not only acknowledging pain but dealing with it. On a smaller scale, we all walk around with pain on some level about something. No one gets through this life unscathed. No one gets through this life unharmed. We're all bruised and battered in some way. We're all hurt and damaged in some way, and the important thing isn't trying to erase that damage. Important thing is acknowledging it. The important thing is dealing with it. The important thing is healing. That's what actually matters, because pain isn't meant to be a permanent resident inside ourselves. Pain isn't meant to be a permanent thread running through our lives. Pain isn't meant to be a chronic condition, yet it so often can be. And obviously there are plenty of people walking around with chronic physical pain. But I wonder, I'm curious, if there aren't just as many, if not more, people walking around with chronic emotional pain. And I wonder this just because I look out into our culture, I look at my own behavior and notice how easy it is, how easily accessible distraction is On so many cases.

That's my go-to whenever I feel a little bit of discomfort and pain. It's almost like a reflex oh, I need to do something. Oh, I need to eat something. Oh, I need to drink something. Oh, I need to take something. And often, at least the long-term answer is no, I actually need to feel something, I actually need to acknowledge something. Yet this pain is here and sure I can try to avoid it, but that doesn't actually make it go away. And that, as I practice avoiding pain, as I practice stuffing it down instead of dealing with any of this pain, that just increases my ability to avoid and stuff down pain, to become less aware of it, to make myself consciously unconscious of what's actually going on of the pain that actually resides within me and as I get better at not dealing with and avoiding my own pain, more pain is allowed to accumulate, more pressure is allowed to build and eventually, at some point, this pain and this pressure will build and grow to the point where it will make itself known In subtle ways. It probably already is In subtle ways. I can probably look at my behavior and see the effects of pain if I really try to look, if I really try to see, if I really want to know. So it's worthwhile acknowledging it, it's worthwhile dealing with it.

And pain, especially deep pain, double, especially deep, big pain oftentimes this is an area where we actually need help. Sometimes we can get through it on our own and sometimes we can't and we have to trust our judgment, which is which for us To trust ourselves to not get into something that will be too much, because, again, we may be avoiding dealing with this pain because intuitively we know it's big, it's a lot. We can see how our pain sometimes gets triggered and comes out as anger or rage or fury. We can see how our pain can get triggered and it comes out in bouts of depression or anedonia or just general hopelessness. We can see our pain come out in a general negative attitude. Sometimes it's easier to see the effects of pain than to be able to know and feel the full extent of the pain that resides within us.

But whenever we've made contact with our own pain, usually it's been my experience anyway that that point of contact is an indication that that pain is ready to be dealt with. That pain has bubbled up, has come up for a reason, and now it's time to do something about it. Kind of like if we're ever in a situation in our lives or circumstance it's become untenable where we can't keep going on doing what we've been doing. Well, that's a really good indication. Well, maybe now's the time to change. We can get really upset that things aren't going our way. We can get really upset that things aren't different. But after that initial wave of being upset comes through, we can realize that this is actually a call to action.

This is me facing the truth head on. It's a lot of times when uncomfortable things make themselves known. Part of the discomfort is us having to pierce our own illusion, having to pierce all the ways that we've tried to hide this from ourselves. We've tried to deny this, that we've tried to live an illusion, live a bit of a fantasy. This is us crashing head first into reality. So, if we've started on the spiritual path, we actually run across some pain, and that's the first thing that comes up.

What do we actually do? Because, especially what happens to us when we hear all these stories about these people experiencing this rapture and bliss and instead we feel something completely different. We feel a heaviness, we feel a stomach twisting, we feel our throat clamp up, we feel our head get heavy, we feel our hearts get heavy. What do we actually do with this information? When we're on our spiritual path and we experience something that actually feels like the opposite of that euphoric bliss we've heard so much about, that truth has other things in store for us.

What do we actually do? Well, in my opinion anyway, we start by gently feeling it. We start to soften some of our defenses, some of our avoidant behaviors, some of our reflexive distractions, and instead just feel, just create and allow a little bit of space for a minute to feel what this is, to feel what's going on, to become aware of this part of ourselves, because, even if we've been unaware, even if we've been unconscious of this pain that we carry. It was always there. The only thing that's changed is now we're aware of it. The only thing that's really changed is our own awareness. And because we're now aware, this is a good time to actually do something about it. This is a good time to see if we can actually deal with this, if we can actually let this pain move a little, instead of being stuck wherever it's been, for however long it's been there.

It has had an effect that, even if we may not be aware of it, this pain in a lot of ways has kind of been like pollution in a river. Even if we didn't know he was there, he was still there, he was still having an effect and it's worth the effort, it's a worthwhile exercise to clean it up, to get it out, to have the river of our being be a little bit more pristine, a little cleaner than it was. So once we start to feel after this pain, a little bit, we can allow it to be and we don't have to take bigger bites than we can chew. We can deal with it slowly, we can allow it to come up slowly and that, as it arises and is felt slowly, often it will tell us things and not really tell us things directly so much At least my experience has been. It will communicate through association, that when I sense a vein of pain within me and I sit down to feel it and process it and allow those feelings to come up, allow them to even build a little bit and feel the full extent of what's going on, a lot of times this will bring associations with it. For me anyway, it's kind of like a movie starts playing in my head, kind of a highlight reel usually, of past experiences that have happened that resonate with this pain, that may have been the cause of this pain originally, that may have triggered this pain and then added to it as I've gone along. I can just let this movie roll, let these associations come up, because when I do this exercise it really becomes obvious that I've been working really hard to stuff these things down, that I've built barriers, that I've erected these silos within myself to hold all this pain in. But because pain is energy, it wants to flow, it wants to move.

Pain is a feeling and feelings are meant to be felt, no matter how uncomfortable or difficult they are. Again, we have to use our own discernment, our own wisdom for the best way to do that and not overwhelm ourselves. But we also don't need to be terrified of ourselves either. We can be comfortable with ourselves, with whatever is in there, and know that, even though this is uncomfortable, this is part of us. This has been part of us perhaps for a long time, and as long as it's been part of us, it's been part of our lives, even if it's only been in subtle ways.

This pain that we hold inside has been expressed. There's a myriad ways that pain can be expressed, and it'll be unique and individual for us, but if we look, we can see it. We can see how this pain has affected us. We can see how this pain has modified our lives and continues to do so. As long as it's there, and if we need motivation or a reason to deal with this pain, that's a really good one, because we've made the decision that we don't want to live the effects of this pain anymore. We want to find a way to heal it. We want to find a way to free it.

We want to find a way to have a bit more of a direct relationship with our own life, rather than a reflected experience coming from our own pain. We want to remove and undo the influence that pain has had on our lives, experience life more purely, more fully, more directly. We may find that we discover a bit of pain for something that we're experiencing right now and that we didn't even know it was there. We didn't really know it was affecting us as deeply as it is. And we can discover pain within ourselves and realize there are aspects of our lives that are a bigger deal than we'd realized. Things are more impactful to us than we thought they were. Things were having a deeper and more profound effect on us than we realized. And when we discover this information, of course we all get to decide what we do with it. We all get to decide what we do about it and sometimes the knee-jerk desire is simply to do the opposite and we've experienced pain on something to just do whatever we can to do whatever the opposite of that trigger of that pain is.

But it's been my experience anyway that the opposite of the problem is rarely the ideal solution. Usually the solution is a bit more nuanced than that Usually it takes a little bit more time to figure out the right thing to do, the best way to handle a situation, just by ping-ponging ourselves among opposites. We don't really solve problems that way, we don't really find lasting change that way. And so, when pain makes itself known in our bodies, in our experience, it's important to listen, it's important to feel, it's important to be aware of it, it's important to be conscious of it Because, again, this is us, this is a part of us, this is a part of our lives, it's a part of our experience, and we can do ourselves a favor by feeling this pain and allowing it to move A lot of times, allowing it to finally move out of us to let it come up and then go out.

Let go of our resistance to it, let go of our own gripping, which is what is keeping this pain trapped within us. Then, in order to let go of pain, we're the ones that have to let go. We're the ones that have to let go of this pain. We have to allow it to leave. We have to give it permission to leave. Part of that permission is also giving permission for that pain to be felt, because in usually pain to fully leave, to fully transition from within us to out of us, it has to be felt first that our refusing to feel it is what's keeping it trapped.

When that feeling, this pain, is us finally dealing with it, finally reckoning with it, finally doing something about it, instead of walking around with the heaviness of it. Some of us have so much pain we've walked through a good portion of our life just absolutely cloaked in it. It's affected our moods, it's affected our personalities, it's affected our choices, it's affected our lives in some really profound ways. If we find that we'd like to change that, if we find that we'd like to live a different life that isn't so marked and colored by our own pain, so influenced by our own pain. Then it's up to us to find the best way to process and deal with the pain that's within us so they can finally move out, so they can finally clear up some space for something else, because some of us walk around with so much pain there's not any room for anything else. But even small amounts of pain can affect us, and then we can let this pain communicate. We can let this pain speak and we can listen. We can learn what it has to show us. We can allow it to deliver its message and then be on its way. We can accept the delivery of whatever this package is that's trying to be sent to us, and then again we can use that information however we will. Sometimes it's enough to feel it, it's enough to acknowledge it, it's enough to let that movie roll and to recount all of those experiences and acknowledge them, acknowledge them if, yes, that hurt me, yes, that was really painful, yes, that was awful, yes, that was horrendous, and then let it go.

Sometimes this will allow us to get to the root of whatever that pain was. I've had experience where I've had 20 different experiences that all felt absolutely horrible, but they all felt the same way by letting them come up. I kept going further and further back until I got to the root, until I got to that original wound. And then, once I got to that place and let that go, it was an obvious and profound feeling of being empty, of being lighter, that on an visceral level I could really feel that I'd cleared a tremendous amount of space. My being just felt a lot lighter, like a tremendous density or heaviness wasn't present anymore. I felt like I could breathe more deeply, I felt more calm, I felt more peaceful, I felt more grounded, and it was all because I let all of this pain, all of these painful experiences come up and release them. At least in this circumstance anyway, it was enough to just acknowledge them. It was enough to look at them and say I see you. It's enough to feel them and say I feel you.

Other times, pain is a little bit more complicated. Other times, pain is leading us to things that we need to change, either things that we're doing or ways that we've been being. We find that we are perpetuating our own pain through our own choices and behaviors, and this is one of the difficult parts of awareness. This is one of the difficult parts of walking down any kind of spiritual or consciousness path, that we really have to accept the truth. We really have to want the truth, no matter what it is. It's not all going to be good, not all going to be good news, but this is a part of us knowing, it's the fulfillment of us wanting to know Because, again, before we were aware of them, these things were already true. Nothing has really changed, nothing new has happened. This was already there. We've just become aware of it. And when we become aware of it, that's the point, finally, that we can actually do something about it, because, of course, we can never solve problems we don't know. We have the first step in any sort of change at least conscious change anyway is being aware of the need for change. We can allow our awareness to guide us, we can allow answers to come. We can bring things up as gently as we need to and then feel what we need to feel. We can drop our own resistance, our own unwillingness when it comes to parts of ourselves that we've buried, that we tried to ignore, that we tried to distract ourselves from, and just allow ourselves to acknowledge, to feel, to accept, to say yes to all parts of ourselves, and we can do this, however we need to.

I can tell you, when I first became aware of this, it felt like I had so much pain inside of me that if I ever tried to deal with it, I wasn't sure if I'd ever stop crying. I felt like I had a volcano within me that could be triggered at times and this rage and fury would come out of me that was unrecognizable for the rest of my personality, the way that I am the rest of the time. But even though this pain felt so much bigger than I was and so massive and impenetrable, it wasn't because I didn't have to deal with it all at once. I could trust the timing of pains arising and that when something came up, my work, my practice was to get better and better at dealing with it, to get better and better at listening, to get better and better at acknowledging was to break the habits of avoidance and distraction and actually deal with my pain when it made itself known. And over time, I've gotten faster and faster at it.

Still not entirely perfect, but that's not the point. The point is to deal with what's there, to acknowledge the truth and to deal with it the best way that I can, because every time that pain has come up, as difficult as that has been, it's also been an opportunity for growth. I have learned something, usually something profound every single time. And, yes, his awarenesses are hard, they're hard to experience, sometimes they're hard to deal with and process, but the growth that's come out of it has always been worth, it has always been worthwhile. And then I've learned that I can trust, learned that I can trust myself. I've learned I don't have to be scared of myself. I don't have to find aspects of myself frightening. I don't have to be horrified with what I find within me. I can build a level of self acceptance that's unconditional and allow whatever needs to come up to come up. But the goal, the aspiration, isn't to control what comes up, but to experience what comes up more consciously than before, be more rooted in the truth than before and allow myself to learn and grow and evolve and expand because of it.

Because, in kind of a funny paradoxical way, experiencing pain can be incredibly valuable, it can be incredibly helpful. For me, anyway, it's been universally worthwhile Because, again, at the very least that pain was already there and it was already finding its way into my life, usually in unconscious ways but, more importantly, I can actually free myself from the effect of it through acknowledging it and feeling it. That the project of feeling and dealing and releasing my own pain ended up being a project of my own liberation. That I only found greater clarity and greater knowing through the experiencing of my own pain. But I found a tremendous freedom too that no longer was this pain exerting its effects and, in some ways, control over various aspects of my life. That through feeling my pain, I was actually set free from the effects that that pain was having in my own life and that I look at. The project of life isn't pain.

Avoidance is to get better at dealing with pain, as pain is a part of any life and usually a full life has its full measure of pain. It's just the way it works. We can't have joy without pain. We can't have a full life without experiencing both. So if it's a full life we want and pain's going to come along anyway, we might as well get better at dealing with it. If it's freedom and liberation that we seek, we might as well find ways to liberate ourselves from our own pain, from the captors and the masters that already dwell in our life that we want to be free from. We might as well find a way to work towards that.

We can allow our pain to have a voice. We can allow our pain to speak. We can consider our own pain in the decisions that we make, because, at its core, pain is a feeling, and feelings are helped by being felt. That, over time, the resistance that we have to feeling our own pain can cause just as many problems as the pain does. And then we don't have to be scared of it, we don't have to avoid it, we don't have to stuff it down. We also don't have to vent all of our pain indiscriminately on whoever happens to be closest to us, whoever had the misfortune of being around us that day. But we can allow it to move, we can allow it to flow. We can allow it to share with us whatever message it has. We can allow it to grow and change us. We can allow it to have a positive effect on our life, which it usually achieves on its way out and it finds its way out by us going into it and allowing it to run through us that we find the freedom and the liberation from our own pain by us first allowing and deciding to let our pain go, we free our pain first, and then our pain frees us, and we can choose to make this decision whenever we wish.

We can decide to do this whenever we want, but it's in my experience anyway that when pain comes up, it's usually a good time to deal with it, and sometimes dealing with it means just being aware of it. Sometimes that means really feeling it and allowing whatever associations that need to come up, allowing them to come up and whatever else needs to be felt too. Sometimes the pain means that there are changes that need to be made. I can find my way to those changes by first starting to listen, by paying attention, by acknowledging and honoring what the pain is trying to tell me. But it doesn't have to be scary, it doesn't have to be terrifying. We can allow it to come up in whatever way we can handle, in whatever way feels reasonable and right to us, and then allow pain to deliver whatever gift it has hidden under all that discomfort, because always healed pain is a gift, and we can lead ourselves into receiving this gift by allowing the pain to come up, by feeling it, by listening to it, by honoring it and by letting it go.

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