Today I’d like to share a few ways I see pain as one of my greatest teachers.
If you’re human, you’ve experienced pain… many kinds of pain. Loss of a loved one. A broken bone. A break-up. Discrimination. Chronic illness. Bullying. An absent parent.
Sensitive people can be particularly affected by pain. We’re more susceptible to stimulation, and we feel it on multiple levels.
That said, we also have a special skill in transforming pain into the fuel that makes our lives meaningful. I saw this within myself during my recent knee injury while hiking the Camino de Santiago. When pain struck, I used it to learn and make sense of my experience.
So what does pain teach us?
1. Pain teaches us resilience.
Sometimes it feels like it’s too much to bear. You may know that feeling intimately.
My knee pain was excruciating, but it paled in comparison to the sudden loss of my mother. Yet, the physical pain on my Camino reminded me of just how much we can endure, particularly if we have healthy coping skills at our disposal.
I met a German woman one day. In the few minutes we chatted, I learned she was carrying her husband’s ashes. He had hiked the Camino de Santiago annually since 2009 until his passing in 2016. This was powerful for me, as the thought of losing my partner is something that makes me anxious. Her sense of ease in carrying him with her made me realize just how strong we really are.
When we can sit with the challenges of our lives and incorporate it into our sense of strength and resilience, we become empowered beings that can handle almost anything.
2. Pain teaches us to listen.
It alerts us to a problem and urges us to listen.
It would have been wise to listen to my body sooner. But I was intent on finding a solution so I could keep walking. Meanwhile, I ignored the call from my body to take rest and made it worse.
Far too often we ignore the physical and emotional pain of our lives. We cope by working harder. We turn to alcohol and drugs as a temporary fix. We’re too good for our own good as we frantically help others while ignoring ourselves.
One of my yoga teachers, Morgan Lee, once said to listen to yellow lights to prevent injury. I’ll take this further and say that yellow lights come in many forms. Sometimes it’s a warning from your body. But maybe it’s a sign that you’re overloading your plate. Or maybe it’s a sign that it’s time to let go of that relationship that feels destructive or imbalanced.
3. Pain teaches us presence
On the Camino de Santiago, it’s very easy to get into “pilgrim mode” of walking quickly without taking time to talk to a local or notice the purple flower growing out of the ground. My injury forced me to pause and appreciate the beauty around me. And when I took the time to notice something other than myself, it helped me manage my pain.
Emotional pain is no different. When we power through or ignore it, we often miss an opportunity. If we allow ourselves to feel pain, then we can tap into a collective experience that all living beings share. When we are present with pain and notice how it shows up, we have an opportunity to reflect and transform it.
4. Pain teaches us gratitude
I caregive for a woman who had a stroke five years ago and spends her days sitting in a chair. She and her husband used to hike and travel all over the world. Now he goes alone.
While she has good days and bad days, she frequently talks about being thankful for her family and travel experiences. She’s thankful for the days when she’s not in as much pain. I thought of her a lot during my Camino.
I felt grateful for my ability to walk despite the pain. I felt grateful for the moment. I felt grateful for my breath, my eyes, and my ears. I felt grateful for the earth and trees, and all of the things that are more powerful than pain. I felt grateful for the small moments I photographed (see below).
Ultimately, that gratitude is what led me to stop my Camino. I thought of this woman and how her Camino shifted to an “inner camino” years ago.
That, my friends, is what the Camino de Santiago is all about for me. It was never about arriving, but about how we face ourselves and live as the highest expression of who we can be.
What have you learned from pain in your life? I’d love to hear from you if you feel inclined to share.