Thursday, May 17, 2012

Real Life Tao - The Lesson of Pain

Trey Smith

My diseased left hip is inflamed again! For the past week, I have been hobbling around less frequently and, when I do have to get from here to there, with the use of my cane. The pain is substantial and it hurts in every position -- laying, standing or sitting -- imaginable. It has gotten so bad that I broke down and took some painkillers, though they haven't been all that effective.

When I was younger, I sometimes would lament the state of my life. Why have I been so afflicted? What does my body have against me? Why am I a sometimes cripple? Why do I often feel 30 years older than my chronological age?

I rarely go to that place now because I realize that chronic pain is a multifaceted gift -- one that keeps on giving. If one is open to it, pain can provide great insights into the overall human condition. So, while I would rather have a pain-free existence -- who wouldn't? -- I am learning to embrace this gift as best I can.

One of the great insights that pain bestows is the understanding that we humans are not indestructible. When we are young, many of us feel as if we will be young, flexible and vital forever. We do stupid things without thinking about potential repercussions. Sometimes these stupid acts lead to pain, both trifling and immense. If acute pain turns into the chronic form, it serves as an apt reminder that we will each break down eventually.

Pain and debilitation serve as a constant reminder of the Taoist concept of cycles. The pain itself ebbs and flows. It hurts like the dickens and then lessens for a time before hurting like hell again. It often exhibits rhythmic patterns like the seasons.

It also provides a prelude to death. At some point, the pain and debilitation will overwhelm my bodily system and usher in the season of complete breakdown. Like a flower that has basked in the warm rays of summer and then crumples up in autumn, I too will one day crumple and die. It's just that I'm beginning the crumpling process in early July, not late September or early October!

The best gift that pain bestows is the ability -- if one chooses to embrace it -- to be compassionate toward others. Since we all experience pain in one form or another, the person who lives with chronic pain has a general understanding of what everyone goes through. We understand how pain can interfere with an active lifestyle and how it can alter life goals and aspirations.

In other words, those of us who live with chronic pain can sympathize with others more naturally.

(I should note that some people who live with chronic pain are downright nasty people. They figure that, if they feel like shit 24/7, then they will do their damnedest to insure that everyone around them feels just as crappy as they do! In my mind's eye, they refuse to learn to embrace pain as a gift and instead fight it to the detriment of themselves and everyone they come in contact with.)

This post is part of a series. For an introduction, go here.

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