Spinning Pain in a Positive Light

“The wound is the place where the Light enters you.”
~ Rumi

My late instructor, Dr. Steve Strauss used to live around Alert Hospital, where many people with leprosy were living.  He observed their life and   made this comment, “I always want to thank God about two things: pain and the ability to forget.”  He continued, “People who suffer from leprosy keep on losing parts of their bodies such as their feet because they don’t feel pain whenever something hurt their leg so they would not take action to stop the problem or bring solution to the thing that caused the loss of their body gradually.  Parts of their body cuts into pieces without their knowledge and in due time they find no toes or proper leg for that is gone.  Pain motivates the individual to withdraw from damaging situations, to protect a damaged body part while it heals, and to avoid similar experiences in the future.

Talking about forgetting, Dr. Strauss said, “We may have experienced loss of loved ones or had painful rejection, betrayal, or other major loses years ago and grieved the losses.  However, if we remember the pain as if it occurs right now, we cannot emotionally survive for the pains are unbearable to live by every day.  Forgetting things through time helps us to survive and enjoy our present moments.”

Post-traumatic stress disorder, commonly known as PTSD, is a diagnostic label given to people who develop stress after they are exposed to one or more traumatic events,  such as war, sexual assaults, major accidents or other threats to personal life. These people may experience recurring flashbacks even after the stressful situation is over.

In recent years, a new term ‘Post-traumatic growth’ is coined by psychologist Richard Tedeschi and Lawrence Calhoun after studying many people who had suffered traumatic life-events such as bereavement, serious illness like cancer, house fires, combat, and becoming refugees, yet triumphantly survived.  They found that for many of these people, dealing with this trauma was a powerful spur for personal development.  It was not just a question of learning to cope with or adjust to negative situations.  They actually gained some significant benefits from them and their suffering led them to a deeper level of awareness.

Steve Taylor in his book of Out of the Darkness he referred to another psychologist, Judith Neal, who studied 40 people who went through ‘post-traumatic growth’ after life-events such as serious illness, divorce or the loss of a job, as well as near-death experiences. Initially, most of them experienced a ‘dark night of the soul’, where their previous values were thrown into question, and life ceased to have any meaning. After this, they went through a phase of spiritual searching, trying to make sense of what had happened to them, and find new values. Finally, once they had found new spiritual principles to live by, they entered a phase of ‘spiritual integration’, when they applied these new principles. At this point they found new meaning and purpose in life, together with a gratitude for being alive, and even for having been through so much turmoil.

The famous philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche stated, “That which doesn’t kill us makes us stronger.” This alludes to the idea of pain has an element either to make us or break us.   The first element is what I would like to write about today – the beauty of pain, people who show special maturity because they learned from pain to determine what is important in life.  They tune their life music to play the present with gratitude.  Passing through personal hell taught them that the minor things are not worthy to complain about for there are many more things that we can be grateful about life.  Hence, they focus on the beauty of life in spite of pain.

Part of identifying what is important in life is valuing relationships.  People who pass through severe pain of loses are reminded about humanity’s intimate need for connection, which is something to uphold.  A new level of linking is developed with family, friends, people who suffer and humanity.  Being enthusiastic of those who are helpful and be there for others through thick and thin becomes vivid and they live appreciatively.

Pain may leave us wiser.  Adversity can leave a positive change for we learn to believe in our new capacity created after facing challenges, a new way of living, a new level of intimate connection, a new capability to understand others and reach out to better the world.

Since suffering is inherent in life, am sure we all have passed through it or are passing through personal conflicts, stresses, childhood problems, relationship breakdowns, disability, loss of loved ones or intangible losses such as dignity, peace, love and so forth.  Otherwise, we may have witnessed others passing through personal difficulty.

We take pain medications for temporary relief in case we ache physically but we certainly know that it does not cure the causes of our problem.  We sometimes take emotional Panadol and avoid facing the ailments of life realities.  One of Helen Keller’s famous quotes rings to speak to this, “Character cannot be developed in ease and quiet.  Only through experience of trial and suffering can the soul be strengthened, ambition inspired, and success achieved.” We do not need to be down on pain for somehow it creates brokenness which returns to greater power than ever.

Hence, when we pass through pain, we can have an attitude that is appreciative of life, and determine the long-term effect to be one of gratitude, confidence, humility, connection to people at a deeper level and supportive of others in their suffering.  We may not feel the pain through time, however, forgetting the lessons it leaves is invalidating the suffering.

What positive changes are you observing from passing through pain?  Are you enlightened and better?

Please share your story.

 “Behind every beautiful thing, there’s some kind of pain.” 

~ Bob Dylan