20 June 2012

"The Power of Now" and Pain: Our Greatest Teacher

Twenty third in a series.

"Do you truly know what is positive and what is negative? Do you have the total picture?  There have been many people for whom limitation, failure, loss, illness or pain in whatever form have turned out to be their greatest teacher."  Eckhart Tolle, "The Power of Now" page 177

I'd really rather not have chronic migraine disease.  I'd rather be able to work at a job that I love and that challenges and nurtures me, like I had two years ago before pain made me resign.  I'd rather be able to drive a car whenever I feel like it; to choose to meet friends or travel or spend time with family as most other people can.  I'd really rather not face the ignorance and non-sympathy of people who cannot know and refuse to try to understand what I am going through.


We do have our chronic diseases; we do live very restricted lives; we do come in contact with unsympathetic people.  Should we mope all the time? Whine?  Make our own lives even more miserable, not to mention those of our family and friends?  Surely not.

That's not to say there aren't legitimately difficult times during which we become anxious, depressed, deeply upset, even suicidal.  These reactions to chronic pain are natural: when they threaten to take over our being, however, then it is time to get help in the form of counseling, support groups, medication, spiritual consolation, or any of the many ways we can reach outside ourselves for help in a life that threatens to overwhelm our stability.

It is not easy to learn to live with chronic pain.  I don't at all mean for the above paragraph to glibly, with facile answers, discard the emotional and mental pain that accompany chronic physical pain. 

But I think that we do not get to the point of allowing pain to be our greatest teacher -- as in the quote that begins this post -- until we have already come to the point of plumbing the depths of our feelings and our emotional and spiritual pain.  At that place, where we are cracked open into a hurt vulnerability that humbly knows its need for wisdom beyond itself, then are we able to allow pain to teach us.

Perhaps it is this that others cannot understand: that, in order to learn the most from our pain, we must have tapped its deeps.  Perhaps that looks to others like we are wallowing in our pain.  Perhaps what we are doing is frightening to someone who cannot or will not do the same in their own lives. 

It's a spiritual truth that we must be broken open in order to be made whole, and that life will inevitably bring us the means of that breaking.  We can choose to white-knuckle the entire ride, denying our hidden vulnerability and brokenness and forgoing the spiritual journey that brings us closer to the Divine (or God, Allah, Jehovah, Shiva, Great Spirit...). 

If it is physical pain that life brings us, then we can choose to allow it to break us open so that wisdom and love and compassion may pour in, or we can choose to turn our backs to the possibilities for growth and change.  In that case, I think, we are choosing fear instead of hope; sickness instead of healing; death instead of life.

"This day I have called heaven and earth as witnesses against you that I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses.  Now choose life, that you and your children may live."  Deuteronomy 30:19

I would love to hear from you.  Please use the Comment link below, or email me at carold.marsh@gmail.com.  Thank you.

1 comment:

  1. Wow, that is beautifully put Carol. You are so poetic. As a fellow migraine sufferer, I like the idea of letting the pain break you open so that wisdeom and love and compassion can pour in. It's so easy to get down and start thinking about what you may have done wrong to deserve this or victimize yourself by saying "why me?" But I have found that the quicker you can find meaning, or think about something in a positive way, the faster you heal (or at least feel okay about what you are going through). Thank you for this courageous blog!