In the Feng/English translation of the Tao Te Ching, the last line of Verse 8 reads, "No fight: No blame." The simple phrase captures the idea that, if we don't compete with others, they can't compete with us. In light of this morning's post, The Lesson of Pain, this message also lends itself well to that topic.
Pain is not something we can fight against. The more we try to oppose it, the stronger it becomes. The only hope of combating it is to let go or refuse to fight it. If we don't fight it, it cannot fight us.
I've learned this valuable lesson the hard way. I've always been a grit-your-teeth kind of person. If pain represents a stumbling block to something I want to accomplish, I try to grit-my-teeth to do whatever it is, nonetheless. This strategy certainly has worked...to a certain extent. When I put my mind to it, I have been able to work through the pain to get things done.
But I am not defeating the pain; I am accomplishing things in spite of it. I am saying to myself, "This is going to hurt, but what the hell!"
There are times in life when we each have to do this. There are times when, no matter the amount of pain, we have to summons the strength to get through it. That's just the way it is.
However, we often pay a steep price for this willed determination: more and greater pain! We may have saved the five children from the burning house or we may have reached the can of tomatoes on the top shelf of the cupboard for inclusion in tonight's soup, but after we have done what was needed in the situation in spite of the pain, we find that we hurt even worse than before.
Modern science is relearning a lesson known for centuries by practitioners of ancient folk medicine: the best way to deal with pain is not to fight it at all. Relaxation -- not grit-your-teeth determination -- often is the best medicine. It is when we refuse to meet the force of pain with the force of will that the former finds nothing to butt heads with.
Put a different way, when we don't spend all of our time pushing against pain, there is nothing for pain to push back against. By learning to relax and take life easier, chronic pain sufferers often can mitigate some of the worst aspects of pain.
This post is part of a series. For an introduction, go here.