16: Well, that’s a pain

Pain x Resistance = Suffering

The Mindfulness Equation

Spent much of the day contemplating pain and the lengths I will go to avoid discomfort – mine and others. I had never really given much thought to my immature avoidance of anything that makes me uncomfortable: my pain, the pain of loved ones.

Avoidance included lying or exaggerating to loved ones to avoid inflicting or feeling discomfort. It’s what I refer to as the get-along-to-get-along dilemma. It’s a family heirloom passed from generation-to-generation on the father’s side.

The mothers prefer martyrdom, victimization, and revenge.

I knew I did this but it’s one thing to know something and another to know what to do about something. As such, I’ve been talking to experienced and supportive friends about what the pain means and how to deal with it in a healthy way. Friends that call me out, not throw me out.

Whiskey will only carry you so far.

But I know I have never been so shattered in my life emotionally or physically. The pain is debilitating but I still have to get up every day and work. I cannot hide in the echo chamber and listen to ghost stories. I have to face a new world, new people, and new situations every day. There is no comfort zone.

As such, I am forced to embrace my pain. To accept the lesson of the pain, find it’s meaning, and not dwell in the suffering.

Which is hard, because, well, I’m Irish.

However, over the last several weeks I’ve actively worked to sit in the pain and not run from it. I’ve sought to find the joy in the pain. I refuse to avoid this experience. I refuse to ignore the opportunity to grow. “Pain,” according to the Alcoholics Anonymous’s 12 Steps and 12 Traditions, “is the touchstone of all spiritual progress.”

One of the many self-evident truths over the last six weeks is my knee-jerk reaction to pain is not helpful. If I’m mad? Shoot off an email. If I’m scared? Shoot off an email. If I miss someone? Shoot off an email?

If I’m having chest pains? Eat chocolate.

As such, a non-judgemental friend turned me onto a podcast from Tara Brach entitled, The Dance with Pain. “How we relate to pain, emotional and physical pain,” said Clinical Psychologist Dr. Tara Brach, “determines our whole life experience.” Which at the moment, my life experience is complex and painful.

If I take a step back, the reality is I’ve responded to the pain of the last six weeks well but occasionally I don’t. Of course, that is all perspective.

People I’ve lashed out against probably have a different perspective but their perspective is also filtered through their pain. Others perceive my lashing out as lashing out at them when in truth I’m lashing out against the pain, against reality.

Ego says the behavior of others is about us. Pride takes it personally and we abandon compassion and reject perspective. Then we inflict our pain on others. We lash out in ways we are comfortable with and it’s different for different people. I can get angry. Others might seek revenge. Different folks, different strokes.

Brach tells Budda’s story of The Two Arrows. The first arrow is the pain inflicted. The second arrow is the pain we inflict on what we think about the pain. The attempt to avoid the pain of the second arrow is reflected in my choices to run from the pain. Which only creates more pain.

Pain is not the enemy. The enemy is what I think of the pain. “It’s our minds that makes us so homeless,” said Brach.

When I embrace my pain, instead of treating it like the enemy, it becomes the doorway to wholeness. Which is all I ever wanted.

 

The Two Arrows

 

 

“When touched with a feeling of pain, the uninstructed run-of-the-mill person sorrows, grieves, & laments, beats his breast, becomes distraught. So he feels two pains, physical & mental. Just as if they were to shoot a man with an arrow and, right afterward, were to shoot him with another one, so that he would feel the pains of two arrows; in the same way, when touched with a feeling of pain, the uninstructed run-of-the-mill person sorrows, grieves, & laments, beats his breast, becomes distraught. So he feels two pains, physical & mental…”
“Now, the well-instructed disciple of the noble ones, when touched with a feeling of pain, does not sorrow, grieve, or lament, does not beat his breast or become distraught. So he feels one pain: physical, but not mental. Just as if they were to shoot a man with an arrow and, right afterward, did not shoot him with another one, so that he would feel the pain of only one arrow. In the same way, when touched with a feeling of pain, the well-instructed disciple of the noble ones does not sorrow, grieve, or lament, does not beat his breast or become distraught. He feels one pain: physical, but not mental…”
Sallatha Sutta: The Arrow” (SN 36.6), translated from the Pali by Thanissaro Bhikkhu