Humans tend to live by the principle of pain avoidance whenever possible. We sidestep major issues, postpone critical decisions, ignore obvious signs, and remain in unhealthy situations just to avoid the discomfort of taking action. We dull physical pain with substances as quickly as possible, and we dull emotional pain by using other people to make ourselves feel better. Unfortunately, all of our best efforts to escape pain seem to bring more of it into our lives. An alternative is to face it, feel it, and accept it. Personally, I have learned to embrace it. Because pain can be a most effective teacher.
An area where we practice pain avoidance is during physical activity. The dread of muscle fatigue and soreness keeps us from fully exerting ourselves during exercise. We choose a lighter weight, shorten our range of motion, and conserve energy during cardio activity to prevent the discomfort that will appear the following day. The truth is, muscle soreness is an indicator that we are changing our bodies. And when you work a muscle all the way to failure, you push the limits of how far you can go. Instead of shying away from this type of pain, we can anticipate it, and even welcome it as a measurement of our progress and a tool for our growth.
Another area where we avoid pain is with weight loss. No one wants to feel physically hungry. In fact, society is so obsessed with preventing this discomfort, that there is an unlimited supply of products offering weight loss “help.” Pills and powders made with unnatural ingredients promise total freedom from cravings and hunger, so the journey will be “easy.” I would argue that the level of difficulty of any endeavor enhances the reward of accomplishment. Resisting powerful cravings produces strength, and enduring a challenge produces character. These are rewards you cannot purchase online.
Another type of pain that we wish to avoid is criticism. Often when we are criticized, we instantly reject it, and accuse the source of being jealous, cruel, or self-serving in their observation. We tell anyone who will listen about the injustice, and those friends jump to our defense, enforcing the belief that we have been wounded. A different choice is to accept the criticism, study it, and look inside to see if it is true in any way. How else can we know our faults, unless someone points them out? In this way, even insults can be viewed as genuine contributions to our personal expansion. With each criticism, I have learned to check my ego, and respond with a heart-felt “thank you.”
There are many types and degrees of pain that we experience. As Elisabeth Kübler-Ross wrote, “The most beautiful people are those who have known defeat, known suffering, known struggle, known loss, and have found their way out of the depths. These persons have an appreciation, a sensitivity, and an understanding of life that fills them with compassion, gentleness, and a deep loving concern.” This is the power of pain. Rather than resist it, we can choose to accept it and use it for the development of our spiritual selves and the attainment of our goals.
Every decision counts.