In April 2020, I was inspired to write The Gift of Pain. Its purpose was to encourage us to pursue our passions, to fulfil our purpose, as well as explore the relationship between pain and passion. While it was not intended to be a post to celebrate the season of Easter and what it represents, I did use the example of the passion of Jesus Christ (celebrated at Easter) to help make my point.
Coincidentally, I am once again contemplating pain. I promise you, it was not planned; but was instead brought on by a particular situation that I found to be emotionally painful. This time, I explore the power of pain. Its power to move and to shape us. It just so happens, that it is once again the season of Easter. A time where the Christian community celebrates the suffering of Jesus Christ – His death and His resurrection – and what that means for us.
The Power of Pain: Positive or Negative?
Our normal response to pain is to seek relief from it. In some cases, we seek this relief in ways that are not positive. It is no secret that at the heart of most addictions, is the desperate attempt to ease one’s emotional or physical pain. However, all this does is perpetuate a cycle of pain. My friend and Clinical Therapist, Donika Byng who specializes in Substance Use Disorder and Addiction, gave me the explanation which follows.
“When we deal with very hard things our brains naturally want to help us feel better. If we do not know positive and healthy coping skills our brains will automatically turn to the negative. Which for most people is engaging in substances – (be it alcohol or any kind of hard drugs) as a way to deal with pain. We do not realize that we would have endured something difficult and our brain is trying to work through that, but in a very maladaptive way, and it ends up causing long term problems.”
Of course substance abuse and addiction is not the only negative response to pain. There are so many others. Take comfort eating for example – this is one that I am very familiar with. Dare I say, that much of our negative behaviors stem from some form of emotional pain.
Pain has the power to make us angry and bitter. It has the power to cause us to hurt ourselves and others. It even has the power to cause us to put up walls and other defenses, in order to prevent future pain. I encourage you to ponder the issue and even assess how you respond to pain. Do you respond to pain in negative ways?
On the other hand, a positive response to pain, can lead us to be solution driven, think critically, tap into our creativity, increase our learning, become a better version of ourselves. It has the power to shift our perspective, to teach us much needed lessons, to make us more understanding and compassionate. Pain opens the door of our hearts and welcomes healing. Though unpleasant, pain refines us. Pain has the power to ignite our passions and drive us towards our dreams and goals.
How we respond to our pain, whether negatively or positively, has to do with our perspective.
The Power of Pain to Teach Us: Experiential Learning Theory
Most of us tend to shun pain, we view it as something negative; but, it is all about perspective. Pain, which is also a byproduct of many of the negative experiences in our lives can teach us powerful lessons about ourselves and others. But we have to be intentional about this learning. My recent experience reminded me of this.
Psychologist David Kolb has done extensive work on the concept of experiential learning theory. According to Kolb, the experiential learning cycle is a four step learning process: Experience – Reflect – Think – Act.
It’s a learning process initiated by a:
which demands reflection: review and perspective-taking about the experience;
then abstract thinking: to reach conclusions and think about the meaning of the experience;
leading to a decision to act: engaging in active experimentation or trying out what you’ve learned.
Using the model of experiential learning theory, we can be intentional about learning from our painful experiences.
I wonder, could there be a thing such as sweet pain? Maybe there is. I envision sweet pain to be that pain you don’t mind feeling because it was not sudden, it did not creep up on you, but rather you were intentional about it. You either went seeking it or was fully aware that it will follow an activity you find satisfying.
I envision sweet pain to be the sacrifices we endure in order to accomplish our goals and reach our dreams, whatever those sacrifices are. From giving up a few hours of Netflix or attending a party, to spending hours studying, or making adjustments to our circle of influence.
My most recent encounter with sweet pain, came just before I sat down to write this post. After procrastinating about it for a couple years, this year I finally started hiking. This was a way for me to live a more active lifestyle and get to know more of my country in the process. As an added bonus, it works wonders for my mental health. A weekend hike energizes me both physically and mentally and gives me encouragement to face the week ahead.
My current emotional pain demanded that I stayed at home this weekend. My bed seemed a lot more inviting than the hiking trail. But experience has taught me that whenever I do not feel like hiking, but do it anyway, I never regret it. I always feel better for doing it. So this weekend, I pushed through, ignored my emotional pain and went hiking – the longest trail I have done to date. I did not regret it. I had a fabulous experience. Full disclosure, I did not hike the journey back; I opted for the boat ride instead. Even when pushing through our pain, we must know our limits and when to take care of ourselves.
As I came out of my car this evening and walked up the stairs of my apartment, I felt the physical pain in my hips, the back of my legs and calves. But it was not a pain I frowned on or felt badly about. It felt good. It was a sweet kind of pain. It reminded me of my experience the day before.
It reminded me of the trail, the beautiful sites along the way, the satisfaction of reaching my destination and completing my longest trail to date. It even reminded me of the exhilarating boat ride on the vast open sea, the waves causing the small pirogue to bump up and down and the boatman’s skill in maneuvering the boat on the waves. The thought of the feel of the sea water as it sprinkled on my face, its saltiness on my lips, brought on a gentle smile. My sweet pain, reminded me of the beautiful rock formations along the coast and one that was particularly breathtaking, standing alone out at sea. In that moment, I was reminded of the beautiful day that preceded my pain.
Wrapping Things Up…
If like me you have held only a negative view of pain, I invite you to shift your perspective. Allow the pain to remind you of the positive things that happened before the painful experience, actively engage in experiential learning and learn from your pain.
Remind yourself, though unpleasant at the moment, with a shift in perspective, something beautiful can come from your pain. Your pain can propel you towards your goals, dreams, purpose and even to beautiful places and experiences you did not expect.
Take the memories and the lessons you learned and forge ahead towards your future. There is still a lot of good to experience.
Thank you for reading and sharing this blog with a friend.
Until next time…
~ Namaste 🙏