“Life is difficult.” This is the first sentence of M. Scott Peck’s book “The road less travelled: A New Psychology of Love, Traditional Values and Spiritual Growth” – for me one of the most comprehensive (and comprehensible) classics on the ‘spiritual book shelf’. I really don’t know how to rephrase this sentence. Life is filled with loneliness, misunderstandings, expectations, fear, failure and despair. This is reality. But somehow ‘society’ / us / our ‘cultural storytellers’ want to tell us something else.
We whitewash our pain
Happiness became a business. Society wants to see us smile. As a result we expect to be happy all the time. And if we are not happy? We are trying to find a remedy – instantly. And how are we supposedly ‘curing’ ourselves from stress and dis-ease? How do we ‘get over’ fatigue, grief and misery? We go to retreats. We consume goods and substances. We fill our bodies but we don’t nourish our souls. We survive but we don’t sustain.
Instead of learning to integrate our unpleasant feelings we build barriers that disconnect us from our pain. Where we are meant to find connection we are closing ourselves off. Instead of facing the lessons of life we are finding comfort in distraction.
Inner emptiness, a loss of the ability of self-care, addiction and diseases are caused by this lack of connection.
Acknowledge the pain (and embrace the fear)
If we want to connect with ourselves we need to connect with our pain. Or with the words of John Green (“The fault in our stars”): “Pain demands to be felt”. We don’t have to travel into former lives or visit the anacondas in the rainforest of the Amazonas to get a glimpse of what is going on with our pain.
If we want to connect with ourselves we need to connect with our pain.
So, how can we deal with suffering in our life? How can we ‘humanize’ the pain demon? How do we embrace the fear?
The first step is to look into the mirror with all honesty. Firstly we have to admit that something is wrong.
Initially we don’t know much about our pain. All we feel is emptiness / a lack of purpose or motivation. Some sort of unwillingness or this huge hole we fall into every Sunday. Or a real physical pain. It can be an infection, a backache or an autoimmune disease. It can be anxiety, depression or paranoia. It can be an unbearable feeling in our chest that makes us unable to feel joy or to make a decision. It can be an enduring conflict with a family member or our partner. It can be any feeling of unease that reappears in certain situations or lasts for a period long enough to restrain our life.
Instead of running away from it – instead of distracting ourselves with scrolling through instagram or escaping into a phone call with our friends, going to a party, taking drugs, rushing to work, we need to take a moment to acknowledge the pain.
Questions are our tools
What do you feel?
A subtle fear of pain leaves us in a state of faint. How do we get out of this state of powerlessness?
Through the years I was looking into my pain a little deeper. I asked myself questions: “Where is the pain coming from?” “Why do I envy others?” “Why am I aggressive sometimes?” “Why do I have issues with my health?” “Why do I complain so much?” “Why do I feel empty / a lack of motivation / a lack of trust?”
I had no immediate answers to these questions, but all of a sudden I spotlighted some corners of my psyche that had never seen the light before.
At the beginning this was overwhelming. All these fears behind this pain seemed to be threatening. I preferred to keep a safe distance. But as the feeling of pain kept recurring I dared to step closer and say “hi”.
Our fears are like watchdogs
All of a sudden these big fears looked less life-threatening. As soon as I came closer the demons turned into cute dogs. I understood: Our fears are like watchdogs. They look scary from the distance, but in reality they are our friends. Incredibly grateful they are waving their tale when we finally pay attention to them.
I understood that these feelings wanted to tell me something. More than that – they wanted to show me a direction. What I didn’t know at the beginning was that these watchdogs are my guides, my mentors. They show me the changes to make and the way to go.
All the time I was so occupied with ‘avoiding the pain’ that I preferred to give away my control. Fears dominated my thoughts. What I had to do instead was taking the time to get attuned with my fears. I needed to learn the language of these watchdogs in order to gain a relationship with them.
By integrating these fears into my life I’ve started to take responsibility for my thoughts and actions. I learnt to take care of these dogs. After a while we were able to comfort each other and to withstand the hardships of life – together.
Feeling the pain opens up the opportunity to get in touch with our unconsciousness. We get to know our deep rooted fears. And through these fears we learn about our real desires.
What’s there? The fear of being alone. The fear of failure. The fear of decision making. The fear of making the wrong decision. The fear of choosing the wrong path in life. The fear of getting married to the wrong partner. The fear of getting hurt. The fear of hurting somebody. The fear of giving birth. The fear of missing out. The fear of not fitting in. The fear of not having friends. The fear of commitment. The fear of taking full responsibility for every action, every decision. The fear of the fear. The fear of life?
What do you like about your suffering?
When we catch a greater look at our pain we identify the fears behind it. But before we are able to walk our watchdogs we need to accept discomfort as part of the process. At the beginning we are distrustful, because we don’t speak the same language. We might only wave at our fears from the distance and duck back down. We might cling to our suffering instead of facing the fear.
Suffering has always a reason. It is something that can keep us alive, something that can accommodate us in a weird way. We get used to it. What do you like about your suffering? If you are not willing to end it, you are might be not suffering ‘enough’?
Pain is necessary in order to find new solutions. If you are not happy with a situation and you suffer so much that you can’t handle the situation anymore you need to change something. Pain is a medium of transformation – if you are willing to break the barriers.
If you accept the challenge, if you deal with it you might emerge strong-minded and more self-aware from a negative experience.
It’s not about overcoming your fear. It’s about feeling it and transforming it into positive action.
Nobody said it was easy
“Those things that hurt, instruct.”Benjamin Franklin
A therapist, your friends, books or even conversations with random strangers can light you the way. But you have to walk it yourself. The secret is to have patience and persistence. Of course you need to be strong and nobody said it is easy. Nope, life is difficult.
We can read many books. We can pray, trust and believe. But we must walk. We must greet our challenges, we must get to know our demons personally and grow together.
There is no shortcut to enlightenment. There are all these crossroads. We have to choose one. Even if we get lost at times – deep inside we know the way.