The Language of Pain

Pain is a benevolent and wise guardian. It always means well, and it always tells the truth. Without pain to guide us away from harm, we would not do well navigating the many perils and pitfalls of life.

Pain is a message from the body. When we step on a sharp rock, pain says, “Don’t do that.” When we are sick, pain says, “Something isn’t functioning well.” When we are unhappy, emotional pain says, “Change your perspective.”

The beauty of pain is that it contains within it specific instructions for its transformation. The power of pain is that when we do not listen, it increases until we can no longer ignore it.

Pain wants to transform, and it’s purpose is to teach us how to help it evolve. But the messages that pain sends are often different than we first assume. To understand those messages, to listen to the deeper truth that pain is sharing with us, we need to learn the language of pain.

To learn the language of pain, we must listen to it, as we must listen to any language in order to learn it. Like every language, pain can say many things, in many ways. And like every language, pain can be subtle, sophisticated, and profound.

In order to appreciate the depth of meaning that the language of pain conveys, we must give it our full attention. It is not so simple as, “I don’t like pain and I want it to go away.” It is, in fact, the very opposite of that. When we welcome pain, and feel it as deeply as we possibly can, then we begin to understand its message.

Fully feeling pain isn’t something we often do, and at first it may seem like a terrible idea. After all, our first reaction to pain is to avoid it. But when our entire relationship with pain is to avoid it, ignore it, suppress it, or do battle with it, then we lose the opportunity to learn what it has to teach us.

Here are three exercises you can do to begin learning the language of pain:

  1. Relax into the pain. This works for both physical and emotional pain. All you have to do is get into as comfortable position as possible, and then relax your body on the exhale. It is amazing how much you can relax even when you are completely stressed out. Here’s a podcast to guide you.
  2. Get to the root of worry and anxiety. We tend to believe the superficial stories of worry and anxiety. When they arise, our first impulse is often to think, “This situation is terrible, and that is why I feel terrible.” When you ask yourself, “What are the real feelings, underneath this worry and anxiety?” the answers that come are more likely to be the true voice of your pain, bearing valuable messages.
  3. Notice that pain, especially empathic pain, has the powerful effect of warming your heart. It is often when a person is badly injured, very sick, or dying, that we come to fully appreciate the love between us.

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