Pain happens. We can try to avoid it but we can’t hold it off forever.  Pain comes into our lives and we get to choose what to do with it. Will we pay attention to it? Will we ignore it? Will we push it down? Will we welcome it?

I went through the first 2/3 of my life avoiding the painful emotions: disappointment, sadness, loneliness, grief. I thought that if I glued a smile on my face, I could avoid the pain and not suffer: Look at happy me! I have a college-degree, a husband, a big house, kids….even a dog! If I stayed busy enough, I barely noticed the tightness in my chest or the underlying anxiety that accompanied most of my days. I thought that by avoiding my painful feelings, I could avoid suffering. Nope! Not true. The truth? I was suffering because I was ignoring my pain. 

It wasn’t that feeling sad or lonely or grief made me suffer. It was in not allowing myself to feel all the emotions that made me suffer. 

Why do we do this? To be fair, we do this physically also. When we are out on a run and get a cramp we want to stop. Why stop? Fear. We are afraid that the cramp will get so bad that we won’t be able to handle it. Guess what? The cramp doesn’t get worse and usually goes completely away. This happens all the time when I’m teaching a group class. In the middle of a set of leg exercises, people will stop the exercise and rub their legs. It’s as if, in feeling their leg muscle work, it’s a sign that they need to stop. Nope. Nothing has gone wrong. Their leg will not fall off. 

We do this emotionally also. We think that if we stop and feel sad that our child is growing up, we will not be able to get out of that sadness; as if stopping to cry, we will never stop crying. Guess what? In the same way the cramp or muscle fatigue goes away, so does the sadness. It passes. 

Just because something is hard, physically or mentally, doesn’t mean it’s time to stop.

We think the painful emotion causes us to suffer but what really causes us to suffer is what we do to avoid the pain: we eat; we shop; we work. What do these behaviors lead to? Suffering. An unfulfilling job. A disconnected marriage. Extra weight. Extra debt.

We suffer to avoid the pain. Feeling lonely is hard. Eating or shopping to avoid feeling lonely is easier. Getting up early to work out is hard. Sleeping in is easier. That doesn’t mean we can’t do it. Allowing the discomfort in (pain) is where the growth occurs. Each time we don’t choose the easy out (eating, drinking, blaming, judging), we grow stronger. Each time we don’t stop the exercise or the run, we get stronger.

Pain is a precursor to growth. Our muscles literally tear apart in order to grow. After you push through a challenging class, how do you feel? Strong. Confident. Proud. The same thing happens emotionally. After we allow our painful feeling and learn from it, how do we feel afterwards? Like a badass. Like a warrior. Like a stronger, more evolved version of you!

I would not be who I am without my past. My divorce. My eating disorder. My relationship with my parents. Everything I am and the woman I’m meant to be, is discovered through pain. The path of the warrior is to shift from avoiding pain to viewing pain as a teacher. Invite it in.  We are who we are because of the pain.

Where are you choosing to suffer instead of working through the pain?