Wednesday, August 2, 2017

“Dwelling in the Darkness: The Value of Pain”

“Dwelling in the Darkness: The Value of Pain”
by Bernie Siegel

“We often refer to the difficult times in our lives as dark times. When you lose someone you love or your health deteriorates, when you are abandoned or rejected, or when innumerable difficulties pile up and you sink into depression and hopelessness - in these dark times you may feel you are drowning or being buried alive. Some hours are so dark that you may barely see a faint light at the end of the tunnel, and it may seem almost futile to keep struggling toward it.

Despite the difficulty, the darkest times of our lives are often the most meaningful. These are the times when we cannot identify our fears and we are forced to pay attention to what we are feeling inside. What happens then, when you listen to your feelings and not your intellect? Your problems become your teacher, healer, and enlightener. The compost becomes fertilizer.

When you are not afraid to dwell in the darkness, you create fertile ground for change. It is no different from a gardener preparing the ground for planting. But it takes courage to face emotional pain and uncertainty. And it takes wisdom to know that a greater good will come from your willingness to explore what your mind tells you to fear and avoid.

It is tempting to numb the pain or distract ourselves so we won't have to dwell in the darkness and learn from it. If you give into the temptation to use anesthesia, you lose the guidance your feelings can offer.  We need our pain to protect and direct us.

Self-analysis may seem at first like surgery without anesthesia, and of course no one wants that experience. Our culture teaches us how to numb and distract ourselves but not how to listen to our pain and learn from our difficulties. Think what we learn about pain from television. We learn that pain is to be avoided at all costs and that there are a variety of pain relievers for every conceivable pain. I would like to see a television commercial that says, "Your pain is a great teacher. Learn from it and be healed."

Do not be afraid to work in your garden. Let your innate intelligence direct you out from under the compost heaped upon you. Your tears will provide the water that softens the soil and leads you to the light. You will then grow straight, tall, and free of scars. Now is the right season for growth; be inspired and start toward the light. It is not as far away as it seems. Remember that a good seed sees no light, but knows the right direction to grow in. That knowledge and wisdom is in you, too.

Pain that is buried continues to hurt. Physicians, firefighters, and nurses all suffer when they bury the pain of their professions deep inside them. Buried pain needs release. I would give the same advice to a war veteran or emergency room physician or police officer or anyone who is storing painful memories: Start to talk and write about the painful event and take the lid off your feelings. Only then can you begin to heal.  If you do not, the buried pain will take its toll. You will become a mummy wrapped in pain, blind to life. When the pain is released it makes room for love to come in.

At seminars I sometimes ask people if they'd like total freedom from pain. I warn them, though, that while it may seem like a lovely idea at first, freedom from all emotional and physical pain can be a threat to one's well-being. Stop and think about it:  Without pain, how will you know when you are sick, in need of treatment? How will you know if you've been burned, pinched, or injured in any way?

There is an important difference between pain and suffering. Suffering is an emotional response. Pain is a physical response that protects and defines you so you take care of yourself and avoid further injury. When you can't avoid injury, pain compels you to get help or treatment. Why are we afraid of something as useful as pain? What makes it unbearable?

The intensity of your pain is related to how you feel about it. Pain is unbearable only when it has no meaning. Listen to your body and learn from it. Talk to your pain, define it and ask what it can teach you. Your pain will always have an answer if you are willing to hear it. When there is a conflict in your life and no meaning to the pain, it is very hard to control. I see this in people with problems ranging from headaches to life-threatening diseases. When the discomfort leads them to make the proper life decisions, whether the choice is to live or to die, the pain leaves. It has done its work.”

“My heart broke on its shame and sorrow. I suddenly knew how much crying there was in me, and how little love. I knew, at last, how lonely I was. But I couldn’t respond. My culture had taught me all the wrong things well. So I lay completely still, and gave no reaction at all. But the soul has no culture. The soul has no nations. The soul has no color or accent or way of life. The soul is forever. The soul is one. And when the heart has its moment of truth and sorrow, the soul can’t be stilled.

I clenched my teeth against the stars. I closed my eyes. I surrendered to sleep. One of the reasons why we crave love, and seek it so desperately, is that love is the only cure for loneliness, and shame, and sorrow. But some feelings sink so deep into the heart that only loneliness can help you find them again. Some truths about yourself are so painful that only shame can help you live with them. And some things are just so sad that only your soul can do the crying for you.”
- Gregory David Roberts, "Shantaram"

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