By Staci Welch-Bartley
Looking back on my life, the first time I truly felt the sting of deep soul crushing pain, I was at the ripe old age of 7. My father had just died of cancer at the age of 39. I was the youngest of five children that had been left in the good care and loving arms of my mom.
As you can imagine, there were many things for my mom to navigate through during the final days of my father’s death. The management of small child with needs of her own, as well as a desire to protect me from the harsh realities of life, lead to my mother’s decision to send me to my aunt’s house. I actually went with several of my aunts for the last weeks before my father’s passing.
During this time, not only did I lose my father, I lost my mom and my siblings. All of the familiar arms I was accustomed to running to for comfort were gone. Intuitively, I sought the outdoors and a long roped swing with a wooden seat, which hung from a grand tree in Aunt Pauline’s front yard.
The tree provided a protective canopy over the swing and from the spread of its beautiful branches, it created a replacement for me of the feeling of being held in my mother’s arms. I spent many hours in that swing which became a way for me to manage my internal pain. Looking back, this was the beginnings of me of discovering how you can feel intense pain and fear, and still be able to create a sense that everything is going to be alright. I began to learn and practice how to reap its benefits.
I am not as afraid of pain today as I once was, simply because pain and I have had a long-standing relationship and I’ve experienced many opportunities to practice being in its company. I now know that pain shows up for reasons that are all designed to benefit me. Pain has been my most profound teacher and attention getter for improving my life and more importantly the creation of me!
The greatest overall lesson that pain has shared with me it that pain is not a bad thing and it serves us best if we don’t avoid feeling it.
Here are 7 ways that pain has served me throughout my life, and I suspect pain will serve you in the same way too, if you let it.
1. Pain will get your attention fast! When things become exceptionally painful in our lives, we will finally stop what we have been busy doing to relieve the pain. We are finally willing to pay attention to the situation that needs to be attended to. Oh sure, we could address these things and situations needing our attention much sooner, but us humans like to wait until it hurts!
2. Pain is a universal signal that says to us, “Go in a different direction and stop doing what you are doing immediately.” We relate and understand this voice of pain much better when the pain is physical. For example, when we have a sliver in our finger or a broken bone, the injured area immediately receives our full and undivided attention. Heck, entire rooms, stadiums, and roadways abruptly halt when someone has become physically injured and we all stop to watch. We are all willing to do whatever is necessary to eliminate the pain and suffering immediately. When it comes to our emotional pain, we respond to it very differently – “run from it for as long as we can” is the mantra!
What if you treated emotional pain like you do your physical pain?
3. Pain encourages us to consider solutions and activities that we would otherwise ignore and put off. Pain helps us to become vulnerable and teachable. In painful moments, we are finally willing to open to up to new learning, new behavior and skills, and new ways of doing things. It’s a place of finally accepting the love and assistance of others, and perhaps hearing the sharing from the heart of a loved one for the first time. This is also a time when we stop to hear and respond to the cries of our own internal voice.
What are you hearing and seeing now?
4. Pain helps us to create clarity in our lives. It is in times of pain that we ponder and dive deep into important questions. Questions arise about who we are, what we want to become, what is important to us, and how we want to move forward.
What is your pain helping you understand about yourself and your circumstances?
5. Pain motivates us to take action and do things differently. It is in times of pain that we are finally willing to make difficult decisions that have been put off for a long time. It supports us to take a stand for ourselves which is most likely long overdue, or eliminate things from our lives that no longer contribute to our wellbeing. At last, we become willing to explore our mistakes, and say YES to living once again.
What do you need to do to now?
6. Pain gives us the opportunity to practice emotional weight lifting. Just like physical weight lifting, it is necessary to build strength and endurance for emotional wellbeing. Emotional weightlifting happens when we spend time with our emotions instead of running from them or reacting and becoming a slave to them. Instead we need to hold them long enough for our thoughts to catch up to our feelings before taking action. By doing this, we can learn to understand our feelings, learn from them, and begin to experience the ability to create balance between our emotions and our thoughts, which in the end will enable us to create more of what we truly desire with a sense of inner-peace and confidence.
The space between the notes makes the music, so does holding the weight of our feelings while our thoughts catch up.
7. Pain teaches us compassion and grace for ourselves and others. I am so grateful for the many opportunities that I have in my work to share my journey of love and relationships with others so as to ease their pain and burden from shame, guilt, and a sense of failure. Pain brings us together and I get to witness the shedding of painful shackles and choosing love once again because of it.
How have you been able to contribute compassion and grace to others because of your pain?
Create a relationship with pain and dive into it! Embrace it, and let it teach you. Pain will show you the way home to yourself just like it did for me as I sat on the swing.