“Generally speaking, we regard discomfort in any form as bad news. But for practitioners or spiritual warriors–people who have a certain hunger to know what is true–feelings like disappointment, embarrassment, irritation, resentment, anger, jealousy, and fear, instead of being bad news, are actually very clear moments that teach us where it is that we’re holding back. They teach us to perk up and lean in when we feel we’d rather collapse and back away. They’re like messengers that show us, with terrifying clarity, exactly where we’re stuck. This moment is the perfect teacher, and, lucky for us, it’s with us wherever we are.” –Pema Chodron
I avoid pain, and most likely you do too. The avoidance of pain is an innate evolutionary trait that’s served our ancestors well and is one of the reasons they were able to co-create me and you. With those genes they passed on comes encoded information. According to Douglas Lisle, Ph.D., and Alan Goldhamer, D.C. our human behavior is rooted in three very simplified actions they pen as “The Motivational Triad” in their book, The Pleasure Trap: Mastering the Hidden Forces that Undermines Health & Happiness. The triad that motivates human behavior is simply: seek pleasure, avoid pain, and conserve energy.
When it comes to discomfort, we are wired to impulsively evade it. If you scorch your hand on a hot stove, step on a protruding nail, get chased by mountain lion or any other physically damaging event; it’s a fantastic move to avoid agony and recoil from it. But it’s more complicated than physical discomfort alone we may suffer from. We also have the tendency to avoid emotional pain, sometimes denying it all together. This behavior of banning or deflecting emotional pain leads to resistance in the body and is one cause of dis-ease. The more we resist messages of internal and mental discomfort the less we are able to live a life full of creative energy and pleasure. So there you have it, a conflict occurs because in order to fulfill our deep-rooted desire to seek pleasure and preserve vitality we must allow the pain that exists to inform us, to teach us.
Sometimes the pain can be so unbearable and overwhelming that we can’t distinguish where it’s coming from and it makes everything ache. We may take pills to temporarily numb the pain, overcompensate our pleasure centers with booze and other intoxicants, overindulge in junk food and sex. We get depressed and over sleep and become slow as sloths all because fear of confronting the pain that already abides. It may not even be present, it may be that we allow past pains to reach us now. We may become addicts, addicted to the stress, addicted to pain and control. Maybe we identify with the pain and don’t know who we are without it.
Life can be painful, but we can use it as an opportunity to raise our awareness to the teachings of that information and find ways to express and embrace ourselves fully to live our best life. Pema Chodron says to, “…lean in when we feel we’d rather collapse and back away.” Be brave, lean into it. If you feel broken, know that you are whole and healing is always available to you. But do know, you will need to accept and embrace yourself fully. The more I am able to sit with my feelings, distinguish pain, listen deeply and accept and embrace ALL of myself, the less pain has a hold on me and the more I can move freely. Discovering innovative ways to stimulate our heart with our own creative expression is human nature’s best medicine. We will get through this together, I am here for you.