Staying in turmoil

We have learnt that pain and suffering are our enemies and we must run away from them but this belief might be preventing us from growing

Beautiful sad girl in the woods

Most of us view suffering as evil. When we experience an undesirable event—break-up of a relationship, loss of employment, failure in business, or fatal prognosis—we struggle to come to terms with it. We cannot see any purpose in pain, especially at the time of going through a painful experience.

It’s a bit like in childhood when we feel pain in our gums before the growth of a tooth. As children, we are not aware of what is happening and so we resent the pain and cry from it—we want the pain to end. But the elders around us know that there is a reason behind the pain and they don’t panic. This pain is not to be suppressed or avoided because at the other end of the pain is growth and development.

Life begins with pain. The birth of a baby is painful for the mother and the baby. Out of this pain springs forth the breath of life and a wonderful new relationship. But did you know that babies feel pain even before they are born? Such is our intrinsic relationship with pain.

The wise know that all pain, physical or emotional, is always accompanied with self-growth, even though it may not be apparent to us. All real growth arises out of suffering and pain—courage comes from experiencing fear, compassion comes from knowing apathy, success comes from understanding failure.

It’s in the middle of our greatest challenges that we’re also given the opportunity for our highest growth, our grandest glory

Is pain your enemy?

I like the way how Osho explains that Rama and Ravana are actually two sides of the same coin. Take Ravana out of Ramayana, and suddenly Rama’s greatness shrinks. The purpose of Ravana’s existence was to bring out the innate glory of Rama. So is the case with all suffering. Its purpose is served only if we are present to it, instead of escaping it.

But this goes against what we have come to believe. We have learnt that pain is our enemy—and we must run away from it. We have become conditioned to view pain suspiciously, to avoid it at any cost, to suppress it, and scorn at it, not realising that life uses pain in its own ingenious ways.

Indeed, it’s in the middle of our greatest challenges that we’re also given the opportunity for our highest growth, our grandest glory. From this perspective, suffering can be viewed as our ally, who has assumed an unpleasant role only to help us reach our own objective of self-awareness. We can view crisis, turmoil, and grief as opportunities for growth.

Pain is not a curse. It’s a part of the natural ebb and flow of life itself, just like pleasure

Becoming intimate with pain

To allow this growth, we have to become familiar with the suffering, we have to know it intimately. Pema Chödrön, a Buddhist meditation master, writes in her bestselling book When Things Fall Apart, “To stay with that shakiness—to stay with that broken heart, with a rumbling stomach, with the feeling of hopelessness and wanting to get revenge—that is the path of true awakening. Sticking with that uncertainty, getting the knack of relaxing in the midst of chaos, learning not to panic—this is the spiritual path.”

Pain is not a curse. It’s a part of the natural ebb and flow of life itself, just like pleasure. We have to learn not to deaden our pain or ignore it. We have to learn to allow it and view it with compassion instead of disdain. It is difficult to do—but the promise it carries within it is of authentic freedom and self-discovery.

This column was first published in the January 2013 issue of Complete Wellbeing.

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Manoj Khatri
Manoj Khatri has spent the last two decades learning, teaching and writing about wellbeing and mindful living. He has contributed over 1500 articles for several newspapers and magazines including The Times of India, The Economic Times, The Statesman, Mid-Day, Bombay Times, Femina, and more. He is a counseling therapist and the author of What a thought!, a critically acclaimed best-selling book on self-transformation. An award-winning editor, Manoj runs Complete Wellbeing and believes that "peace begins with me".


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