Pain as the Teacher

I was stunned at the number of people who suffer from it. After a year and a half of being in bed and having my nearest and dearest family and friends around me — and that was sort of it — I felt very cut off from the outside world. I wasn’t working and I couldn’t read and I certainly couldn’t go on my computer, let alone Google something like “pain” or “neck pain.” I had an overriding sense of my uniqueness and isolation. I thought I was the only one, right? How could someone else be going through this? And it felt like a very lonely, isolating and dispiriting experience from the rest of the world. It was only after starting to write the book and being at the … well, being at the hospital first, all of a sudden I was around 60 or so other people with the same problem. That was the first eye-opener; “Oh, there are other people like me and, wow, they even have it worse than I do.” Most of them have it worse, and for all kinds of different reasons. I suddenly had the sense of, “I don’t have a monopoly on pain or on hardship or on family problems or on life-changing incidents.” All of a sudden I felt like my issues were small potatoes compared to the rest of them. . . .   I did start doing a little bit more research and found that there are 50 to 75 million other people in America living with debilitating, chronic pain — which is defined as pain that goes on longer than six months continuously. And then I started finding out that my experience — having to leave work, finding myself isolated and lonely, finding myself depressed, finding myself unable to cope with my family and domestic responsibilities, etc. — was just a common experience that nearly three-quarters of the other people with chronic pain experience also.  – A Life Lived in Chronic Pain: A Conversation With Cynthia McFadden and Lynne Greenberg,

Presumably, my own current experience of pain will be a finite one, but the interview above was meaningful to me, and I intend to read Lynne Greenberg’s book.  She is a woman whose neck was broken in her teens, during a car accident.  Considered healed, she lived a wonderful life for some 20 years, until a sudden experience of intense pain alerted her that something was wrong, and indeed, it was: evidently her neck had not healed at all, and was still broken.  Since then her life has changed completely, as she has sought healing, but today she lives in chronic, intense pain and is unable to work; and barely able to be a parent.

What struck me so intensely about her very honest words is that pain means isolation:  because we cannot truly feel the pain of another, the best of us offer sympathy and support, while the rest of us offer…dismissal.  What can we do, we think?  And on we go, hoping it never happens to us.

I go regularly to our local hospital for physical therapy now, and I am so struck by the number of people who are living in pain, often alone.  In terms of my own condition, for instance, I am told that many people who live alone go through this, and the thought of that is chilling:  I have a loving husband and daughter who stand ready to make my load lighter and my pain less, who love me and wish me well…  and so many people don’t.

May all people be well.

May all people be happy.

May all people be free.

2 thoughts on “Pain as the Teacher

  1. Catherine de Marin

    Thank you for sharing this Eklutna.

    Just this morning I was reviewing Stephen Levine’s Healing into Life & Death – reflecting on the meaning of true healing. He says that that he can no longer pray that someone’s suffering ceases – only that they find whatever deep healing is available to them. I find that the prayer that suffering be relieved is fundamental.

    Later he writes about Black Elk’s admonition that we walk in a sacred manner. He interprets this to mean that “we make art of life, to attend to each moment as though it were the last, to take each step as if it were the first. To breathe love and awareness into this tiny body, entering the greater body we all share . . . each step must be taken lightly not with force, not creating more self, becoming more of a doer, more of a separate identity which draws suffering upon itself. . . . When we walk in a sacred manner nothing throws us off balance for nothing is identified with as self, as the walker . . . instead all is experienced as sacred the process unfolding as divine moment provided for our healing . . . “

    I believe that your ending metta invocation breathes love, awareness and opens us to the greater body we all share.

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