I have recently been ruminating on the idea of pain; both physical and emotional. Prior to the new year I started running. In the beginning, and to a certain extent even now, it was painful. My knees, my shins, my calves, my thighs. I also felt the pain of my lungs as they struggled for air the longer my stints of running grew. I remember hearing, when I started going to the gym several months ago, “pain is weakness leaving the body.” I would ironically quote this to my workout partner numerous times throughout each of our sessions. He, however, liked the quote and used it often in the most sincere manner. Then, as we both began to use the phrase more often it began to percolate.
Pain, both physical and mental can initiate spiritual growth. As I feel my physical pain I become very mindful of how it makes me feel. The part that makes me most aware is the pain I feel as I try to breathe. As someone who meditates and does yoga I have grown more keenly aware of my breath as it passes in and out of my body. The more and more I focus on getting my breath into my lungs, into the part of me that were hurting physically the easier the running becomes. Breathe into the pain. It is the perfect solution.
As for the emotional pain, I recently ended a relationship with someone I have cared about for several years. We haven’t dated in almost a year and a half but we have remained friends and intimates in that time. I was not emotionally prepared for him to move on and begin seeing someone else. Don’t get me wrong, deep down I know it’s the right thing and needed to happen. He needed to move on and I needed to let go. But, when the truth finally came out it was like a kick to the stomach. The wind was completely knocked out of me. I remember thinking, “why are you surprised, you’ve suspected this for a while now.” That doesn’t help soften the blow when your suspicions are confirmed.
This is not the first, nor will it be the last time I was hurt in the name of love (or should I say my expectations of what love is supposed to be – love does not hurt). I was recently drawn back to the song Try To Remember from the Broadway musical The Fantastiks. My favorite line in the entire song is, “…it’s nice to remember, without a hurt the heart is hollow.” This led me back to the idea that pain is often the greatest catalyst to spiritual growth. Growth comes when we are still willing to open our hearts to love even when we still feel the raw pain of our failed love attempts.
Physical and emotional pain feel very different to each of us. But, I find I combat the pain in exactly the same manner. After completely cutting off the person I have loved for quite some time I was reeling and struggling to breathe. Just as though I were running. Then, I began to breathe into the pain. The pain in my heart, the pain in my mind, the pain I was feeling in my deepest recesses. At first the breaths were shallow, but with each in breath and out breath I knew I could breathe more deeply, fill my body with the healing breaths. And it began to work. I felt the immediate sting die away. I felt the peace coming back to my mind. Such great advice, breathe into the pain.
This does not end pain completely, after all, pain is weakness leaving the body. It does though offer us a way to dull the pain, embrace the pain, work with the pain, and grow from it. That is the lesson of pain; grow from it or be devoured by it.