It shows up at times where we’re thinking of others. That’s why we don’t notice its value. When we use our experiences with pain, it will be in some kind of compassionate act. To heal them is to heal ourselves when we feel that level of empathy. That is when we see another’s pain as our own. That is when we feel a sense of oneness with another person.
Let us immediately distinguish pain from suffering. Suffering is psychological and it leads to psychological pain, which is only just now becoming important for people to distinguish from physical pain. As I noted in yesterday’s post, relative to our cellular structure language is a very new creation. As a result, our body keeps reacting under the assumption that we’re in physical danger, when really we’re just worried about what someone will think of us on social media. Clearly those things should not been seen as equally important or meaningful.
While the same chemicals can get triggered, with physical pain it can take a long while to heal, whereas sincere efforts at understanding the structures of psychological suffering can quickly reduce it almost completely, and over time people can soon learn how to deeply love their own lives. But we gain access to loving it by trading away our psychological suffering in exchange for acceptance of the certainty that we will experience both physical and non-optional psychological pain.
Physical we’re already ready to accept, and to what degree we accept it is generally referred to as our pain threshold. But buying office supplies for our new job, signing our married name, imagining our life as someone different–these are all either hopeful or wildly hopeful fantasies. We’ll all do them sometimes, but that doesn’t make it wise. It just makes ego human.
There is no need nor benefit for us to spend a lot of time leaping into a made-up future to concoct expectations. We can just stay in the now, where we can actually take action to impact our future, and in doing so we become less likely to avoid causing ourselves future psychologically pain.
Non-optional psychological pain is when our circumstances have changed so suddenly and so drastically that we literally have brain wiring that just isn’t set up to manage it. It’s impossible to be someone and not take on a world view, but if you’re a soldier and you get your legs blown off, then you’re suddenly someone who needs a revised identity. Same for someone who goes broke, has a divorce, loses a job or through the death of a loved one.
The depth of our love with our loved ones relates to the level of pain we’ll experience when they die and our brain can no longer interact with them in the present. That’s why it still tries, often until death. I haven’t lost a parent yet, but I know a lot of people who still ask their deceased parents for advice all the time. They’re just wired into too much other stuff. Their beauty is that they’re literally hard to forget.
By living through very painful experiences, we become valuable to anyone else experiencing those things, and in a ways that could not be known by people who had never actually been in the same position. This is the basis of empathy: our own psychological and physical pain. And when we’ll feel its value is when we bestow our empathy on anyone whose pain we truly share. Having surrendered ourselves into a state of oneness, healing them is to heal ourselves. And that is the value of our pain.
Scott McPherson is an Edmonton-based writer, public speaker, and mindfulness facilitator who works with individuals, companies and non-profit organizations locally and around the world.