What Do We Do About Pain?

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The following article was written by Dori Abbott, one of our Woman Within Eastern USA members.

iStock_000012625418Small_0Many of us experience chronic pain from various diseases and conditions. Even the perfectly healthy can experience pain from time to time. The older I get, the more I shy away from pain. I frankly just don’t want the hassle of it. I know I don’t have that many more days left, and I don’t want to spend any of them in miserable pain.

But I digress…The pain I really want to talk about can’t be handled with an aspirin or a prescription. It’s that searing, soul-sucking, cosmic pain that philosophers call “angst.” It’s basically the unbearable anguish of the human condition. The frustration that comes from the gap between where we are in life (spiritually, physically, economically, emotionally, socially, whatever) and where we think we should be.

When we are young, that frustration is sporadic—we may have fits of melancholy or depression because; well, we basically suck at something. But as we get older, there is a danger that angst can turn to cynicism. Cynics are nothing more than bankrupt idealists. They have stopped believing that they can close the gap between where life is and where they want it to be. The worst cynics become dream stealers, because they not only don’t believe that they can achieve the life they want, but they don’t want you to believe it either. These people can be toxic.

So how do we get up every day and face our angst? How do we reconcile the frustration about that gap between where we are and where we want to be? In short, how do we deal with the pain of life in a productive way without letting it make us cynical? First of all we need abolish the myth that success means the absence of pain. Pain is a fact of life—in fact it is a gift. It is both unavoidable and totally redeemable! Pain is not something to be avoided, but something to be confronted. If we believe the myth that pain is “bad,” then our hearts will seize up each time we feel the slightest hint of rejection, or loneliness, or failure, or poverty, or want, or hunger…see where I’m going with this? The list could go on and on, so basically our hearts will stay seized up all the time!

The second step in this process is to consciously acknowledge the truth that pain is nothing more than a mirror. It shows us who we are, what we’re made of, and why we’re here. It doesn’t change any of those things; it just reflects them back to us so we can examine them. So knowing these things will make the pain go away? Hells to the no. But it may save you from becoming cynical. It may give you the ability to get up each and every day with joy and courage to face whatever pain comes to you. Some of you reading this are old enough to remember the song by Helen Reddy known as the fighting anthem of the feminist movement (I am Woman). One line in that song says, “Oh yes, I am wise, but it’s wisdom born of pain…” She was right, you know. There is a wisdom that comes to us when we don’t avoid pain—when we face it square on and let it wash over us, and realize that we got through it, and we are still here! Aho! And Hoorah!