Facing Pain, The Greatest Teacher of All

“Most of us do not take these situations as teachings. We automatically hate them. We run like crazy. We use all kinds of ways to escape — all addictions stem from this moment when we meet our edge and we just can’t stand it. We feel we have to soften it, pad it with something, and we become addicted to whatever it is that seems to ease the pain.”
Pema Chödrön, When Things Fall Apart: Heartfelt Advice for Hard Times

There are a lot of books out there dedicated to the subject of managing pain.  Psychological pain, I mean.

One of my favorite authors on the subject is Pema Chodron.  She was a huge part of my healing after divorce and through finally reckoning with the reality of my life.  Pema isn’t afraid of pain.  She reminds us that painful situations are not the problem.  Our thoughts and beliefs are.

One of my strengths is the ability to face horrific emotional pain, learn from it, and move on.  That’s also what I enjoy most about my work – helping others face feelings or situations that seem insurmountable.

Although, lately I’ve been deeply challenged by this little thing called life and have had moments where I wasn’t so sure I could keep going.  (My reason for wanting to write about this subject.)

Life feels like a lot of work. Because it is.

On the other side of your pain is your real self.  The self that lovingly guides you and knows what you truly desire and provides you with sure footing. Life is offering up an endless smorgasbord of uncomfortable situations to help you get closer to your real self, too.  I know that sounds utterly awful and counter intuitive, but the universe has it’s way of going about things.

I personally don’t understand why pain is part of the human experience, but earth school is what it is.   We have to be willing to feel the pain in order to get the lesson.

In my work I help people learn how to use their voices more efficiently.  This often means helping people accept their current singing or voice sound compared to how it used to sound.  For singers, or people who use their voices for their jobs, change in the sound of the voice can feel like losing part of one’s identity.  It is very painful and very hard to accept.

It is also one of those places where life offers up a grand gesture of love, wrapped in a package of almost unbearable sadness and grief.  When the voice changes, and it can’t be controlled or used they way we want, it can shake us to the core.

The voice is one of the things that makes us unique in the world.  It is one of our place holders.  It can be our unique form of artistic expression.  No one can imitate our voice, and when it isn’t “us” anymore, it can feel like the bottom as fallen out.

Things can tend to feel like they’ve fallen apart.

Running Like Crazy

My advice to anyone suffering unbearable pain is to feel it deeply.

Feeling this level of pain sucks.  It physically hurts.  You feel like you are going to die.  But then you don’t.  You eventually stop crying or screaming or shaking.  There is a limit on how long the body can keep up with a huge emotion.  Did I mention it sucks, though?  Ugh, not fun.

The reason for feeling these feelings is so you don’t run from them in the form of addictive behavior.  Addiction can come in the form of low-grade anxiety, being on social media all day long, any kind of chemical over-use (alcohol, drugs, caffeine, food), staying too busy, working too much, or anything that keeps you from staying present in the moment.  We all tend to find an addictive substance or circumstance when confronted with unbearable emotional pain.  All of us.  Like Pema said above, we want to the soften the pain a little – take the edge off.

The best argument for stepping toward the pain – literally stepping into the pain – is to be able to find a solution.  If we buffer our feelings with active addiction none of us ever grow beyond the pain.  We never move through the emotion, we never learn, and we stay stuck.

This stuck-ness is actually our psyche running like crazy from something it cannot bear to confront.  We run from the pain (or stay addicted to distractions) because we unconsciously believe it will kill us.

We Automatically Hate

Like Pema says, we automatically hate the situations that cause us such horrible pain.  We do not automatically identify them as the harbingers of our salvation.  Almost never.

But as sure as I’m sitting here, I know the worst emotional pain is also the doorway through which life radiates love and charity.  We just have to be brave enough to walk through it – also not typically the first thing we think of when tragedy hits.

Accepting Pain

If I could wave a magic wand,  I would restore people’s voices to their original pristine conditions.  I would whisk away all the heartache that my clients feel as they struggle to accept the unacceptable.  I would make all the hurt go away and fix it so it could never come back.  I can’t stand watching people suffer.

Fortunately, I have learned that we need pain, and taking it away only makes things worse.  Taking away someone’s pain would be the least beneficial thing for that person.  Without it we don’t get the biggest gifts of love, and more importantly we don’t change.

The only proper course of action is to find a way to feel our feelings.  Again, it sucks, but it beats a life of avoidance and addiction.

I have seen a few people bravely come to terms with their voices as they are, and from there learn to embrace their new sound.  These are also the people who find peace – which is what I really want for everyone in the end.  Too bad the authentic, deep-in-your-soul kind of peace often only arrives after you’ve gone through what feels like hell.  Emotional hell.  (Or is it good?  Each of us gets to decide.)

Why Talk About This Pain Thing?

It won’t hurt us to keep reminding each other that we’re all in the same boat.  All of us have times when the pain feels like its going to eat us alive – and I think its important to talk about it once in awhile.  Yes, we need to feel our feelings, but we don’t need to ALSO live under the delusion that we are alone in this suffering.

I leave you with this video of Pema Chodron talking about going to the emotional places that scare us.  I think dealing with voice issues might be one of the scariest things singers have to face, and they are also our greatest gifts.  Each of us has to walk that journey ourselves, and keep searching for bright lights in the wilderness.  I hope with each person who faces a voice challenge, there also comes the ability to feel the scariest feelings and move toward healing.

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