I don’t like pain. I don’t like it in any form, when I experience it myself, or when I see it in others.

I may not be entirely alone in my distaste for pain. Most of us will do almost anything in our power to avoid the experience of pain.

The problem is, pain is not an optional part of the program; it is not an extra add-on to normal life. I don’t get to choose whether or not pain will penetrate my life experience. It is part of the package; it goes with being human and being alive. There is no human life that will not travel at some time through dark and difficult terrain.

But perhaps, pain is not actually the primary problem. People can live with pain. Many people live with unimaginable suffering, sometimes for their whole lives. But they have not allowed it to destroyed them. I have known people who navigate life with pain in multiple variants and seem to live with some quality of life, even in the midst of the lacerating brambles of their circumstances.

What I cannot live with are the stories I create around the pain I suffer. What makes the inevitable hurts unbearable are the little narratives I construct in my head in an attempt to explain, or justify, or make sense of, or even to alleviate, the pain I encounter.

There are so many stories I tell myself:

  • “This should not be happening to me.”
  • “I do not deserve to suffer this way.”
  • “This is not fair.”

These storylines may not be helpful but at least they have the virtue of being true. Pain should not happen to anyone; it is a scourge. No one deserves pain; pain is not fair.

But the really harmful pain narratives are the ones that are completely false:

  • “This is happening to me because I am bad.”
  • “I deserve to suffer.”
  • “My pain is your fault, the world’s fault, God’s fault.”
  • “Someone should make this pain go away, make it stop.”
  • “If only I was smarter, stronger, richer, more capable, I would not be experiencing this pain.”

These violent lies only increase my suffering.

We tell these deadly stories because a lie that promises to make pain understandable feels more bearable than a pain that makes no sense, which sadly is the case with most pain. So, we spin fantasies in the hope of alleviating to some degree the real pain we are experiencing.

But the stories never work, because the stories we use to try to deal with our pain have their origin in the common fallacy that pain is an unnatural part of life.

Our pain-stories begin to grow silent when we acknowledge that pain is nothing strange or alien. It is an integral part of what it means to be human.

This is not in any way to belittle or diminish the horrifying reality that pain often represents, but, when we stop telling stories about our pain, it begins to become possible for pain to do good work in our lives. When we resist pain’s work, we harden; we condemn ourselves to life lived on the surface.

Pain can put us in touch with the reality of our vulnerability. And so, pain has the power, if we let it, to cause the cage we have built around our heart to break open. Pain has the capacity to free us from the prisons we have constructed in a futile attempt to shore up the illusion of security we struggle to construct. As pain whittles away at our heart cage, it can release the fragrance of gentleness and compassion.

We all live in a rock tumbler. Life goes round and round; we bang up against circumstances and people that have the ability to knock off some of our rough edges. It hurts. But, when we allow the pain to do its work, we open and the beauty of our true nature begins to show through. Pain can uncover the richness and reality of life. When we accept our own pain and the pain of others, we may catch a glimpse of the beauty that is the fullness of grace and abundance that are the true nature of life.

It takes faith and trust to embrace pain. We cannot think our way towards this place of acceptance; we can only choose to act with the courage that sees clearly and accepts fully the reality of our lives as they come to us. This is the only path I know through the inevitable pain we must at times all face.