Pain.

There is nothing worse than the feeling of pain. It stings. It burns. It penetrates. It hurts. Pain is the bitter end of a faded sweetness. It is a remnant of a decision that influences all future decisions of the like. It is a signal, and like all signals, it is meant to guide. Where and how we left pain guide us is completely our choice.

On a physical level, pain is a sign to stop doing something. Get your hand out of the fire. Don’t walk barefoot on broken glass. Get away from that beehive. Pain is the body’s recourse for conscious decision-making; it is a physical action that is translated into a mental activity. Neurons react to exterior stimuli, sending messages to the brain that implement positive change. On a physical level, the necessity of pain is blatantly obvious: survival. 

It is less obvious to see the purpose behind pain in the mind, or suffering through emotions. Much like physical pain, mental pain is also a necessity to living a healthy life, but the difference between the two is that mental pain comes in forms of emotion. These less tangible—but often more painful—forms of suffering can include general sadness, anxiety, depression, and anger. These “negative” emotions cause varying levels of stress, and this stress is the signal that tells the mind something needs to change. (I keep negative in quotations because every emotion is positively relevant in the pursuit of experience and therefor cannot be condemned to a positive or negative judgment). Just like physical pain, mental pain is attempting to teach the mind a lesson.

As hinted to earlier, the main difference between physical and mental pain is tangibility. Physical pain is much easier to spot and—subsequently—fix. If I am stepping on a rock, I understand that that rock is causing infliction and removing it solves the problem. It is more difficult to identify and solve mental pain.

A good example is the all to common problem of missing someone. Everyone at some point has to say goodbye to someone they care about. It could be a lover, a friend, a family member, or even a pet. When we walk along our individual paths and have to leave something important behind, it hurts. Identifying this type of pain is very easy, but understanding why it’s there is difficult. Many reasons seem plausible. In the case of longing questions like: Am I missing this thing because I need it? because I want it? because I am accustom to it? because I am afraid of not finding it again? etc, car arise. Here, the “rock” is identifiable, but the reason for its infliction is buried. This makes solving the problem ever more challenging. Yet, solving the puzzle of pain is only the first part, learning from it is entirely another challenge.

As mentioned, the point of pain is to learn. Learning from pain points us in the direction of not having to feel that pain again. In order to learn from pain, we must understand everything about it: what hurt me? why did I get hurt? how can I stop the pain? In emotional pain, the answers may not be so transparent, but they do exist. Reaching them requires patience, a willingness to feel the extent of the pain, and an open mind to understand what choices led to these consequences. 

We so often repeat the same mistakes, only to be brought back to the same problem, the same pain. Many denounce pain and run from it. Often times I fail to understand that my suffering is the greatest teacher I have. It is a stern instructor that does not bend under the suffering of its students. It is a consistent reminder that there is a better way to live life. Pain’s ultimate goal is to provide its subject with an evolved way of being. Pain is the path to self-evolution.

Although I hate feeling pain, I know deep down that whenever I feel it I have the chance to grow. Pain makes us feel alive because it threatens our stagnation; our comfortability. It gets us moving when we have become still. It pushes us to expand the limits of our selves. Whenever I feel pain and can pull my ego out of self-pity, I know that I am on the verge of doing great work.

A yogi friend of mine once told me, “The depth of our pain carves out our ability to feel empathy.” I understood this as “the more pain I feel, the more I can relate to the pain of others,” which is correct. What I was missing was the empathetic knowledge of the self: the more pain I feel, the more I understand myself. Becoming intimate with aversion brings one closer to knowing affection. And through pain I understand more about who I am and how deep I can become.

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Wisdom of the Chinese Massage Parlor

I wasn’t sure if it was the pincer-like grip piercing my tender neck or the intrusive finger smuggling its way deep into my chest cavity, but for some reason I had the crystal clear epiphany that maybe going to Chinatown massage parlors wasn’t exactly my cup of tea.

After a friend and I had spent a long day walking around Manhattan, we were in need of some deep relaxation. After pondering the all-mighty midday nap, we opted for the more interactive idea of getting a massage.  We decided to take a stroll into Chinatown. We were dually warned, but I must have blocked it out, because when our dear referrer told us about this joint all my mind heard was: massage.

Yep, definitely not a Chinese massage.

The place was what you would expect for a $25 half-hour back rub beating. Having really no idea what I was getting into, I decided to just go with the flow. The very small, very nice Chinese lady who would deceive me in so many ways, spoke to me in sputtered English. I did what any confused, extremely naive client would do: I agreed. In retrospect, that was probably the moment I signed my name in blood.

She started out rough. And for the next 30 minutes, it was this roughness I would so desperately yearn. She dug, pulled, pinch, prodded, shocked, twisted, pummeled, gouged, kneed, passed gas (quite unashamedly), and repeated all of these things more times than I care to remember. In the midst of this, my body and mind were all over the place. My hands clutched the metal legs of the massage table so hard that the table shook. I was breathing like a madman. I must of sounded like a crazed sadomasochist. At one point, I literally thought I was going to cry.

Not quite a Chinese massage

I had no control whatsoever. I realized at this moment I could either count the milliseconds until sweet, glorious freedom or just surrender to the torture. And although I found it almost impossible to let my body go completely limp, I did begin to loosen up. This by no means helped the pain; it only allowed her more room to plunge deeper into my body. I think she touched parts of my skeleton that have never been and will never be touched again. She was a crafty one, that sweet, little lady.

There are many times in life when pain, suffering and basically a complete loss of control can create adverse reactions that limit our ability to learn from our experiences. When I was on the table, I could have chosen to get up, but I understood that my emotional reactions and physical urges (as well as the entire karmic event of me actually getting this massage) were trying to tell me something. As I settled into my state of being (tortured), I was able to re-examine the situation.

A Chinese massage.

Utilizing a new perspective, I came to other conclusions. The massage was teaching me a lesson in surrendering, sacrifice, respect and humility. It also gave me the inspiration to write this blog post. I am sure that physically I will be better off—it’s just that I might not recognize it until next year.

All jokes aside, how many times have you found yourself in an undesired situation? In that moment, how much of your energy is put towards avoiding or trying to stop that situation? How often are you present during these times? In these valuable moments, we exert so much effort in running away that we often miss what is right in front of our eyes. And worse, when we don’t realize the entirety of the situation, we tend to repeat it until we do.

Surrender to the moment, good or bad.

I’ve written about the wisdom of pain before, but this post is about recognizing your reaction to it so that you may be in a position to learn from it. The first step in approaching anything—be it a relationship, a lecture, a business meeting or a massage from hell—is the ability to listen. When we can listen with all the senses, with the inner ear, we can accept the lessons given to us without having to repeat them.

And I can tell you in all certainty that I will not be getting a Chinese massages any time soon.

The Beauty of Pain

Photo: soulbounce

With Valentine’s Day around the corner, instead of buying flowers and making dinner reservations, I find myself feeling the pangs of a broken relationship. But even with this heartbreak, I’ve found more love than I could imagine. And it is all because of pain.

Sometimes, pain is the most important teacher in life.

It takes on many forms: physical, emotional, existential, spiritual, the list goes on. Yet regardless of the different shapes it takes, pain is always the same. It eats at the core and it sinks down low. It is blue and hollow, victimized and regretful. Pain is a horrible feeling that is relaying a message to the inflicted. At the most basic level it yells “STOP!” Take your hand off the kettle, take pressure off your ankle, release your grip of the thumbtack. It alerts us to safety when we are in danger. In physical form, the tangibility clearly denotes the necessity of pain. But what about the less palpable pains?

What about heartbreak? What about depression? What about fear and failure? These are all forms of pain and they all hurt—sometimes more than physical pain. What are the messages of these non-material sufferings? What is pain telling me when my heart is broken?

It is telling me the same message: “Stop!” Something in my life is causing me harm and I need to pay attention to it. This stress is taxing my energy and causing friction, so much friction that pain must speak up.

In all honesty, I am going through a lot of pain. Break ups are never easy, nor the ones you wish did not happen. As easy as some make it seem, separation is always tough. However, it is nothing new and the outcome will always be positive because, as they say, life goes on. What I would rather discuss is not the details of my situation, but the process of pain.  I find that too often I speed through the painful moments in order to reach happiness. This neglect of hurt has denied me valuable lessons. Lessons that one can only receive in true moments of despair.

Click here to see the full article on elephantjournal.com

For This

There is something
I can see it and it shines
It’s never away nor very far
It’s right there
I can touch it
Healing breathing and loving
Infinite
Like the kiss of a dog
The comfort of the sun

The diamond within is never dull
It only needs to be polished

So polish away
Let the dust fly
But don’t forget to honor each particle
For each one is your teacher
Your pain and your love
It is what you came to learn
It is why you are here
Listen to it
For it tells the secrets of the universe
Revel in it for it will set you free

Evolve with the strength of the tide
The innocence of a child
The heart of lion
And the grace of the guru

For this you will live
For this you live
For this
You are