Tag Archives: pain

How Embracing Pain Can Prevent Jerkitude

I’m special. I know you’re wondering how I know. But I’ve always known, crazy as that sounds.

In fact, I suspect most people who haven’t experienced big, deep pain probably agree with this. And anyone who has experienced a massive life event that brought them deep pain, they’ll probably confirm it:

Not suffering pain makes you special. Since life inevitably brings giant hardships, having so far somehow escaped proves I’m special. All the myriad pains life could have brought, and maybe should have brought, I’ve managed to sidestep. That obviously makes me fortunate, right?

Or maybe it makes me pitiably common.

Having never experienced great pain, I often think I shouldn’t have to. I think I can avoid it through planning, cunning, skill, and plain inborn specialness–in other words, luck. And at least until something painful enough happens, I’m likely to go on believing in my good fortune and being special.

And like most who’ve been spared, I believe a bunch of crazy things about why. One of my favorite, almost sacred beliefs is that my life should continue this way and progress without much struggle, effort, or especially pain. The longer I go without it, the scarier it becomes, and it embarrasses me to admit this, but I don’t necessarily believe it because I think it’s true, but because I don’t want to admit that it’s false.

Oh, but I know pain is coming whether I accept it or not….

After my freshman year of high-school, I went for a run one summer’s day. Remembering what the football coaches called “hell week” was coming up, I thought I’d try to get in shape. I hoped taking a few weeks to work up to the physical demands would help me avoid some of the hellishness I’d endured last season.

Somewhere around the third week of training, I rounded the corner where I usually turned up the juice to sprint for home, and there was nothing in the tank. I’d increased the distance little by little, but today my noodly legs burned and I was drowning.

If I slowed, I’d never make my goal. I could try again tomorrow, but I only had so many days left, and I’d missed several already. I hadn’t pushed like I should have. I’d never get this chance back, but as my momentum began slowing, I hit the mental wall.

The combo of physical exhaustion and the psychological exertion amplified it into something I’d never felt. That stab of new awareness remains with me to this day, awakening and clearing off everything but the flash of inspiration:

Embracing this level of pain is what everything most worth having in life will require. This is what commitment means.

I have no idea why it broke through my foggy stupor in that moment, or why it was so indelible. And unfortunately, it was a mere blip in my well-ingrained system of pain-avoidance and denial. It’d be several years before I realized rejecting this wisdom was the source of every jerk. But I’ve never regretted experiencing it when life has brought a new, exquisite anguish my way.

I’ve read countless stories of people fighting back after accidents, a fire, a child’s death. Such disasters convince me it’s no big loss I can’t run anymore. My feet can’t take running, but I still push myself to face the discipline it takes to grow. I know every great advance of civilization has required great pain. Why should my life be any different?

But part of me still believes wholeheartedly it should be, because I’m special. And if only everyone could be spared like I have, well, life would be one big 1980s party all the time, just like it’s supposed to be.

Obviously, this dangerous, unexamined belief can’t continue. It has already caused me untold problems. If I took but a moment to notice the fatigue of fighting not to see it, I’d realize this.

Am I truly unaware of how damaging it is? Is there a better definition of a jerk than one who believes he’s escaped pain because of his specialness?

If I could only see all the extra pain this false “specialness” causes–to myself and others. If I could see all the missed, prevented growth because of this evil belief. …

“It is only in the heat of pain and suffering, both mental and physical, that real human character is forged. One does not develop courage without facing danger, patience without trials, wisdom without heart-and brain-racking puzzles, endurance without suffering, or temperance and honesty without temptations. These are the very things we treasure most about people. Ask yourself if you would be willing to be devoid of all these virtues. If your answer is no, then don’t scorn the means of obtaining them.” – Dallas Willard,  The Allure of Gentleness

Do I habitually scorn pain? I may like to sound borderline masochist, but I shun just about every type of suffering, which ultimately only causes more. Is this one reason I seek out safe, imagined pain in stories and entertainment–because choosing purposeful pain is what I need most?

Maybe, in this culture of shallow pursuits and unrelenting selfishness, some people need stories to remind them of the need to choose purposeful pain? Should it be any wonder so many apathetic, depressed, and medicated people suffer for the lack of meaningful pain, the kind that brings growth and must be chosen?

“All we need to do is make an honest and thorough effort to discover what is right and wrong, good and bad, and, when we are convinced on these points, then simply go out and face life for what it is worth.” (Allure of Gentleness)

Why would I think I can escape this difficult fact of life? Should I try to write, live, or do anything without realizing my greatest task is first to understand what every hero must accept about this life and this impulse to flee all pain?

The plain fact is, the pain isn’t the problem so often as running from it is.

There is pain we can choose to face, and there is pain that is chosen for us. Neither comes by random luck. And no pain is improved by not facing it and accepting it as an opportunity to grow. I can’t continue living until I learn this. I have to get this simple, seemingly-impossible lesson between my ears before anything else.

I believe in God, the Almighty Creator of all heaven and earth. I believe he is pure, sacrificial, unconditional Love. Therefore, what challenges me most is always for my good. What causes me to struggle most is always what I need most.

It’s not about seeking out pain, or even welcoming it. But neither can I continue to hate it if I truly want to understand its higher purpose. Like exercise, it’s never completely pleasant, but the day will come where the incredible struggle will seem to fall away, and what’s left will be the exhilarating feeling and the knowledge that pain is not the fearsome enemy I feared.

Facing this is how we grow. That’s certain. How else would we recognize its true value? What else but pain is so important to us, so convincing, so unavoidably, regrettably, intractably interwoven with our existence? What else but God gives life such meaning, weight, and purpose?

Is there a greater, more motivating force in our lives than pain?

And is there any more important decision than to learn to face it well?

For the higher purpose,

Mick

The 2nd Most Powerful Story Tool: Express Pain

 The writing life requires courage…It requires the willingness to be alone with oneself. To be gentle with oneself.

– Dani Shapiro

 

What we don’t know can and does hurt us.

The old saying was never true. We hurt when we’re ignorant, and so does everyone else. In fact, I wonder if ignorance is the main reason we experience so much pain in this life. Not knowing can be excruciating.

truckeeWhat writers don’t know torments them so they go out and find answers. Having worked with and known hundreds by now, I’ve found that curiosity is one of their defining characteristics. They’re even curious about things most people never think about–what instinct means, how stock markets work, what the average temperature in Spain has to do with their tradition of siestas. Who cares? Writers do.

And my theory about this is that they’re precocious children who never quite grew up and are also compensating for at least a somewhat miserable childhood. Pain forces us into self-distraction and we’re shaped by our fears at least as much as our loves.

However, they do mostly realize the struggle this causes them and those they love. Who doesn’t realize this writing life is hard work? Mostly, those not doing it.

wisteriaWho doesn’t realize the contributions writers make to the world? Mainly, only those not paying for that contribution.

Yet who is currently writing the novel, the screenplay, the enhanced reality game that will remind us of our shared humanity? Who is working on the blockbuster that will capture our imaginations and inspire us to remember the sick and needy? Who is writing the story that will bring us back to the dream we had as children of saving the world before we grew too afraid of scarcity and other’s opinions?

At this very moment, a writer is working those stories out. 

Writers are the ones best enabled to inspire the world because they’ve done the hard work of thinking. And above all, in their curiosity and ambition, they need to both push themselves to seek out the pain in their experience, and go easy on themselves to ensure they can (and want to) continue. Every writer requires a delicate balance of determination and grace. Those who don’t write regularly will discount, discredit and dismiss it (an unfortunate side effect of not thinking very hard or very regularly), but working with words to balance truth and strong interest, entertainment and education, a certain skillfulness is required.

And the work keeps writers humble. There’s no calculating the galaxies of experience we’ll never know, but even what we do know is only one person’s experience. Writers have no need to spout opinions as facts or present one-sided arguments as truth. They’ve had to discard biases that blind the less-devoted, and make out the hazy picture of the uncomfortable truth that offends everyone equally in its unexpected, brilliant burn. The writer is basically a risk-taker who wouldn’t quit.

IMG_6066And what will it take to reach the finish line? Maybe primarily, the willingness to risk much, to risk everything if necessary. That necessity to risk is why writing takes courage above all else. Risking pain to seek the deeper truths about yourself and life, and risking sharing what you know. Risking paying close attention when you experience pain or fear, knowing it means you’ve been chosen to understand, express and explain this particular view of it best, and to give the universal aspects specific dimension.

Finishing any work of writing will take risking running toward suffering, and living with the small, seemingly insignificant frustrations, and bearing them patiently so you know how others feel, how difficult it is to feel useful, worthy or even up for the task. It takes risking facing deep feelings of insufficiency, uncertainty, and unacknowledged anxieties and doubt.

You’ll eventually wonder if you’re getting too old and maybe you missed your chance. And even after all that, you may have to risk sharing the childhood wounds you endured, the anger and guilt. And sure, there are amazing discoveries and truly life-enriching parts. But when you risk giving dimension to your emotions and conveying the context to understand its terrifying bigness or its embarrassing smallness, you risk being known and found out for your messy life, your silliness, your ignorance.

People will know you and be able to use that information. You’ll be found out.

IMG_6067But you’ll also be free of it. You’ll have confessed it and released it into the world, and it will be apart from you rather than a part that once controlled you through fear. That’s the thing about pain. While it’s hidden, pain controls us. When it’s brought to light, pain is seen as what it is–common, ordinary, and powerless.

Pain can’t always be changed. It can’t be avoided. But it can be helped. It can be resolved by being exposed. It can stop animating and controlling you. And it can stop being so mean and overwhelming.

When we risk sharing our pain, we find we’re never alone. 

Why do we get distracted so easily from realizing this is what writing is all about? Whatever else it is, writing at its core is the way out of the universal fears specific to these vulnerable, frail lives. Writing is how to get at the truth about life that makes us all a part of something larger than ourselves. It’s the experience of remembering and maybe finally knowing beyond our limited experience that we’re okay and so is everyone else. It’s connecting and reminding and extinguishing the massive power pain always has over us–until we face it, name it, and disarm it.

Seek out your pain unafraid today. Write it and speak it in words that nail it down, give it form. And see if it doesn’t free you and inspire you to keep writing to free others.

There’s a higher purpose in all of this, you know?

  • Mick

Just Beyond This Pain…

You can fight back from injury, full of that feeling of the fire in you to fight back against the pain–pain in your body, in your life, in your past over all the chances you weren’t given–and still end up hopeless.

I sit on the deck in the setting sun, pushing back against the self-pity that traps the weak who feel imprisoned by something in life they think they didn’t deserve.

sunsetThe sad truth is I hurt my ankle in Oct last year. And you might not think a sprained ankle would matter so much. People have lost legs, lost eyes, lost sons. I lost running in the morning and walking without a hobble for a few months–and I even knew it’d be a danger to my equilibrium, my motivation and sense of purpose, not to mention my balance. And it was all that, in more ways than one.

I’d even vowed to keep working out. But time passed and it wasn’t healing, by 6 months later, I’d lost all momentum. My energy, my routine, my stamina, even my motivation–to stay in shape, and to write my book–it all fell flat. And certainly that wasn’t the only reason, but I even faltered at work. All my hope of improving and getting stronger was gone, and everything I used to rely on to empower my writing. Poof!

It sounds ridiculous, I know, to let my physical life influence my mental and emotional, let alone the spiritual aspect. And to let it derail my writing? But it did. Apparently, I’m a big ball of fragile interconnected threads and you pull one and it all gets tangled. I don’t want to believe that’s, but it’s true.

DSC_0014And as I sat watching the light change and listening to the robins call their families home for the night, I felt obligated to believe I could master this though I didn’t know if it was really possible.

I deny the truth and believe I can let some things slide and it won’t affect me. Then, when it inevitably does, I get frustrated and force things, and then get angry when I inevitably slack off, which creates a cycle of dissatisfaction. I know the ease of getting into bad habits, and I’ve begun to resent the taskmaster me.

Even before the ankle, it wasn’t proper responsibility.

Yes, something has to change.
sunsetI watch the sunset. First it’s orange, then pink and finally purple, and I think again how amazing God is, though I don’t see any sign that says “made by God.”

As with so many things, the mystery makes it even more beautiful.

I sit on the deck watching it through the high trees. Photographers call it “framing” when the central object is seen through something in the foreground creating a frame around it. An object’s natural beauty is heightened through obstruction.

As Wendell Berry said, “The mind that is not baffled is not employed. The impeded stream is the one that sings.”

Or as Chesterton said, “Art is limitation; the essence of every picture is the frame.” I’ve had to learn slowly it’s the pain that obstructs and constrains life that makes it meaningful.

And responsibilities are what make freedom possible.

Maybe the key is what Viktor Frankl talks about in Man’s Search for Meaning–the good tension between freedom and responsibility.

roseThe sunset is over so quickly. I hear Ellie playing violin down in the practice room. Every time she comes to the beautiful minor chord in the song, I wish it could last longer, but it never does. Maybe tension also has to continually resolve for it to be beautiful.

“Tell all the truth but tell it slant,” Emily Dickinson said. “The truth must dazzle gradually or every man be blind.” The low sun slants through the clouds and sends its color through the trees and I’m thinking of light bending and rainbows caused by refraction, and how music delights by bending the limits of a song’s established structure.

The devil is opposed to balance and would love to deflate the tension and take me out. But he can’t. It isn’t his call. It’s mine. I’ve been given all authority through Christ.

And if this storytelling life isn’t all about balancing tension and resolve, then I don’t know what it’s about. Don’t I know the freedom that comes in responsibility? When do injured ankles change the truth? With a little pain God brings relief. With a little darkness eventually he brings light. He ordains the contrasts of life to make it rich and meaningful.

skyTo imagine the bland pain-free existence I think I’d prefer…. No injuries to remind me what it means to feel good and strong and healthy. What if instead of complaining next time I’m thrown off by life’s minor chords, I instead partner with God in his process of bringing both good and bad, and believe it’s not so bad when he’s in charge of it?

What else do we have to do to enjoy all of life but to let him be in charge of it all? Like Job, simply to decide to follow him no matter what.

And even now, paying attention to him, I might get out in front of the momentary darkness and feel the light already coming again. …

 

Tell all the truth but tell it slant —
Success in Circuit lies
Too bright for our infirm Delight
The Truth’s superb surprise
As Lightning to the Children eased
With explanation kind
The Truth must dazzle gradually
Or every man be blind.
– Emily Dickinson
Mick