On Pain

“Your pain is the breaking of the shell that encloses your understanding. Even as the stone of the fruit must break, that its heart may stand in the sun, so must you know pain.”

Kahlil Gibran, The Prophet

When I was in 3rd grade, my friends and I would play on this weird thing at recess. They were like spinning monkey bars, with three big, rotating rings. You climbed up, jumped onto the first ring, swung your body to jump on to the second, and so on. We would all see who could go the fastest, do the most tricks, and even swing their legs up onto the rings while spinning.

One day I decided that I wanted to try and jump to the second ring instead of the first. I was ready to up my game. Plus, my best friend could do it, so surely I could.

The problem was that my best friend was probably 5′ 2″ at the time, and I was probably 3′ 2″. However, my blissful ignorance completely blocked out any fear I had, and I was determined. So I climbed up to the little ledge, got on my tip toes, and took a deep breath.

I completely missed.

Like, not even close.

I was a dramatic child, but I could have sworn I broke my wrist. I was lying in the mulch, crying and screaming. No bones were broken, just a little bruising. But all I remember was that it hurt.

That’s a silly example. But the hurt we all experience in our day-to-day lives isn’t quite as silly as a tiny little girl thinking she could defy the laws of physics. For some, the hurt is constant. For others, it is sporadic. It is intense, it is mild, it is a mix of many things. And yet, we all have one thing in common in the midst of our hurt: avoidance.

Humanity has avoided pain since the beginning of time. Which is somewhat funny, because pain is the only indicator of something being wrong in our lives. If humans could not feel pain, a toddler could very possibly burn its hand off the first time it touches a flaming hot stovetop. If humans could not feel pain, we may not realize when we are really sick. Sometimes pain is the one thing that keeps a human physically aware of his need for something to be fixed.

And if we could not feel pain or loss or heartbreak, happiness would most likely mean nothing to us.

Pain isn’t bad in and of itself. Just like anger or sadness isn’t bad. Pain–whether physical or emotional–is merely a symptom or sign of something else. I would argue that not only is pain not bad, pain is necessary. We must use it to carve out the bad and make room for more goodness. I can’t really word it eloquently, so check out a couple quotes from people who can.

“Pain and suffering are always inevitable for a large intelligence and a deep heart.” -Fyodor Dostoevsky

“The great art of life is sensation, to feel that we exist, even in pain.” -Lord Byron

“It’s better to feel pain than nothing at all. The opposite of love is indifference.” -The Lumineers

“In most cases what Epicurus said should help: that pain is neither unbearable nor unending, as long as you keep in mind its limits and don’t magnify them in your imagination.” -Marcus Aurelius

Obviously, this is not some revolutionary idea or even theory developed by a philosopher/scientist/theologian/etc. This is the mere “research” of a woman who is longing to learn and grow. And on my journey, I am learning to stop running from pain.

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