Sooner or later, and sometimes in multiples, life doles out to each one of us some very bitter life lessons to learn. We find ourselves asking “Why?” and sometimes “Why me?” Our heart might break or our stomach might turn into knots as we agonize over the questions that flow through our minds.
“What could I have done to change this?”; “Why did he or she do that to me?”; “What am I going to do now?”; “I just don’t understand!”; “How can I get through this?” It just doesn’t seem fair no matter how you stack it up.
Your “Whys” Can Lead You Out of the Dark
I’ll get into the reasons for suffering in other articles, because there are reasons, but when you’re experiencing emotional agony, it can be very helpful to realize that what you’re going through is a stretching of your capacity.
It’s a challenge for you to reach out toward your next step of growth. There are no accidents. You’re supposed to learn something from your pain. If you put your mind to it and try to think of it like this, the whole experience can turn into a positive thing. You can find the silver lining.
The next time you’re in a situation where life seems so unfair and you just can’t comprehend what’s going on, try to drop your attachment to the cause of your angst for a just a little while—pull back from it and ask yourself this question instead: “What if I weren’t being challenged right now?”
Take a deep breath and really identify with that question. Think about it. When you’re in pain, that’s the time your heart aches and reaches out for answers. That’s the time you soften up and become more open to the answers that come. If you sincerely want the answers, you are likely to find them—because the answers are inside.
If you weren’t being challenged, you wouldn’t be growing—you’d be standing still. This is a wonderful opportunity to overcome a challenge—to pass a test so you won’t have to face that life lesson again. Pain makes us reach out for answers. In the process we grow and we gain strength. Often we end up in a better condition or situation than we were in before we faced the painful trials. Life’s trials have a definite purpose. In fact, they are tailored for you to enable you reach the next level in your growth. That’s where karma comes in.
Emotional Pain Isn’t Real—Test It to See
Stick with me a moment while I try to explain what I mean. There’s a lot more to it, but I just want to introduce the idea here that pain isn’t real.
I’m not saying you can’t feel the pain—and the pain seems very real—even overpowering. You are asking “Why?” and you mean it. You want the pain to disappear.
As I review this article and get ready to launch this new magazine, I’m going through multiple tests that feel very painful and challenging to me.
I’m having some nagging health issues that started a few years ago and the doctors can’t identify the problem or the solution in spite of many tests and attempted cures. I’m also pushing past my fears of getting this magazine out into the world—what if no one wants to read it? What if it doesn’t help people like I hope it will? This is my passion, after all.
Throughout all of this, re-reading this article that I wrote last month is helping me to remember the benefits of emotional pain—because the plus side is so easy to forget. Pain hurts and it feels real.
The next time you’re in pain, try this experiment while you focus on detaching from the cause of the pain just long enough for the experiment: Sit down in a quiet place where you know you won’t be interrupted and just breathe. Take slow breaths, a little deeper than normal. Watch your breath go in and out for five minutes or however long you can hold your concentration steady—long enough to feel a sense of calmness.
Now invite the emotional pain in and let it sink in where it wants to go instead of trying to push it away or hold it down. If you are able to give it free reign, you may find after a few moments that it loses its power over you. Several times I have challenged my pain to get as big as it wants to get—I’ve told it I won’t hold it back—I want to go through it and grieve—”Just come through me and do what you have to do.”
What I found was, the pain started to progress, but then it dissipated almost immediately. I didn’t understand why at the time, but there are two reasons this happens:
- Pain isn’t real.
- If you resist the pain, you give it power—it seems even more real.
This is one of the best things to discover about life! It’s like challenging a tough guy, “Go ahead and hit me!” and finding out he’s not so tough after all.
Emotional pain can only get its energy from your attachment to it. When you believe something has hurt you, you are giving it power. Without your belief in the pain and whatever is hurting you, the pain has nowhere to go.
You’ve probably heard that thoughts are things. Your thought—“I have pain and I need to hold it back” is creating your emotion and giving power to the pain, which is the opposite of what you really want.
Thoughts really are things. They have power in themselves. We can actually cause illness or health by focusing our thoughts negatively or positively. This is the mind/body connection at work.
Change your thoughts and your resulting emotion and experience will change with it.
What happens to you in any situation is a function of what’s going on in your own mind. Emotional pain is not real unless you perceive it to be real and give it power.
It might be easier to think outside the box on this point if you recall a time when you saw someone else struggling very hard with an issue that was excruciatingly painful to them, but you wondered why—the problem seemed minute to you, and would have been minute had it been happening to you. But the pain took on an amplified level for them simply because of their perspective—where their mind was at that time because of their personal experience.
For example, our newest neighbors, Chris and Isabelle, have a 180 degree view of trees, mountains, sky and valley on the north side of their home. But when they were considering whether or not to buy the property, they asked the owner at the time about some tall trees in the neighbor’s yard at about the 10 o’clock position. The owner, wanting to sell his house, assured Chris that he could get the HOA to make the neighbors cut down their trees (all of them).
Leonie and Herbert, the couple who own the house with the trees are in their 80s and they had planted every one of those trees themselves. Most of them had been their live Christmas trees throughout the years and many had been growing on their property for 30 years.
Herbert had maintained the property in beautiful condition until the previous year when it had become too much for him and he hired a gardener. His health was on the decline. The other surrounding neighbors all enjoyed the view of these trees, they attracted a lot of wildlife, and they added value to the property.
These trees hardly even broke the new neighbors’ view of the horizon, and altogether they spanned only about one or two percent of the 180-degree view. The situation was incredulous. No one in our community could believe it, but Chris and Isabelle decided to sue Herbert and Leonie separately for a minimum of $100,000 each, plus additional costs for emotional distress.
After several years of this argument, Chris and Isabelle got their way in part during mediation because Leonie and Herbert lacked the funds and the emotional stamina to go to court. They had to cut down almost half of their beloved trees. They were on the local news surrounded by sounds of the angry buzz saws on the day the trees were felled.
Now what all of us (including Chris and Isabelle) have for a view, rather than beautiful trees, is an unobstructed view of another neighbor’s blue house in the foreground and many other houses below.
What went through the minds of Isabelle and Chris, who sued our neighbors, is a mystery to all of us. But they had a reason for being so attached to winning this battle. I’m sure they experienced quite a bit of pain themselves in this situation. They certainly caused immense pain for Leonie and Herbert who considered moving, for the rest of us who enjoyed the trees, and for the birds and animals who lived and foraged among them.
Proof That Pain Means Growth
Did you ever look back after going through a painful experience that took weeks or months to play out before you could see the light? I’m not talking about someone’s death or a major event that changed your life forever. I’m talking about some challenge you conquered that was a difficult struggle.
When you looked back, did you find yourself thinking, “Why was that so hard to overcome? It was really pretty easy—I could do it much better if I had to do it again. What a breeze!”? But at the time you were wrestling with it, it seemed like such an incredible hurdle—your emotions were really tied up in it.
This situation is an indication that you grew from the experience—you passed the test. You jumped the hurdle and now you’re on the other side looking back, realizing it wasn’t as tough as you once thought it was.
That is growth. Reflecting on this can help you see that we in fact do learn from pain, no matter how uncomfortable and difficult it may seem at the time. It’s also another indication that the pain wasn’t as real as we thought it was—since we’re beyond it, we don’t see what the big deal was all about.
So the next time something bruises your ego, or you feel emotionally hurt in some way by something outside yourself, or you’re facing one of life’s lessons, think about these three things:
- Emotional pain only hurts if I believe it’s real.
- I’m being challenged to grow beyond a previous limitation.
- I will get beyond this. I will learn from it and I’ll feel so much stronger having conquered it.
I guess that’s what the saying, “it hurts so good” must mean. I’m not saying you can or should try to eliminate all your pain by turning a switch and saying it isn’t real. I am encouraging you to explore your pain in different ways and to be more gentle with yourself by trying to understand your pain and give it less power.
Realizing that the reason for pain is ultimately growth and expansion can give you a glimmer of hope to outshine your despair while you fight the battle. Sometimes we’re too hard on ourselves and we don’t cut ourselves any slack when we’re going through our tests and trials. A different perspective might help you through the hurt a little easier (life lessons learned).
Always remember to seek help from a professional when the going gets tough and you get stuck.
We’re all in this together.
By Jan Tucker, publisher
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