Living through physical and emotional pain is a gift to the collective consciousness — and ultimately, the cosmos.
BY DAVID RICKEY — Being Human, at the present time, inevitably involves experiencing pain, both physical and emotional. As much as we may try through sex, drugs, relationships or meditation, there is no escaping this “given” of life.
Other manifestations of life also experience pain and the opposite of peace, from quails to quasars. But what makes pain uniquely painful for we humans, though, is the capacity of the mind for self-reflection, and the attempt to avoid with the reflexive thought-form: “This shouldn’t be happening to me.”
Take a step back from that concept, and let me explore why there is a universal imperative for the pain we feel.
On a purely physical level, pain is the body’s attempt to tell us something is wrong. Hence the reflexive attempt to move away from the cause. When that is not immediately possible — as in bodily disease requiring a period of healing — living, if only for a time, with the pain is necessary. In the cases of the physical pains accompanying various kinds of dying, learning how to live with the pain becomes necessary. Yes, there is palliative care, but often this is not enough to end the pain completely.
In my own experience with pain (the result of multiple fractures), and in my ministry to help others who are in pain or dying in a hospital, I have been taught useful lessons. There are breathing and awareness techniques that provide relief and peace, but I want to focus here on another dimension, literally.
In his own ground-breaking work with the dying, Stephen Levine, a Buddhist-oriented therapist associated with California’s Spirit Rock conference center, develops the idea of consciously moving from “My pain” to “My part of The Pain” (excerpted in the above video). When we are sick, we tend to shut down into a very self-focused drama. All we seem to be aware of is the location and sensation of our personal pain and dis-ease.
But when we expand our consciousness to realize that, at any given moment, many on the planet are also in pain, it is possible to connect to the shared experience and realize: “This is my piece of the world’s pain.” In the same way that when you feel moments of grace and peace, you are tapping into a power larger than the boundaries of personality.
A simple, although mundane example: When I was last in Haiti, there were several nights when the electricity was not working, and I was lying in a sauna-like room with mosquitoes buzzing around me in predatory formations. I felt miserable until I thought: “There are thousands of people lying in tents in this same heat, with similar squads of kamikaze mosquitoes.”
In the realization of sharing this experience, I was able to slip into sleep. The miserableness was amplified by my mental noise around the idea: “I shouldn’t have to experience this.” The turn-around, to borrow spiritual teacher Byron Katie’s phrase: “I am part of a whole community that is experiencing this together.”
There are actually two things going on here. First is the simple fact that sharing makes something more bearable to the mind. The more important fact is that much of the “suffering” comes from my ego’s protests. Communal suffering helps to obliterate the illusion of “My suffering.”
This is another level in the teaching of compassion. It is no longer “I” who is suffering, but the experience of my part of “The Suffering.” I am suffering with others — I can experience the communion of compassion.
Emotional suffering has similar levels, but also an added unique one. Emotional suffering has its roots in the unfinished business of the evolution of consciousness. Emotional or psychic pain, from loneliness to severe anxiety to meaninglessness, is a manifestation of the Karmic working out/through of lessons we are being given. Here, avoidance, either by repression, acting out, or addictive chemicals, prevents us from doing the work that is intended. This time, the movement is less outward toward community, then inward toward deep truth.
I believe that emotional pain always comes from a misunderstanding of how things work. The karmic work we have to do is to go within and resolve the misunderstanding, to change the understanding of “How things work.” I have come to learn that all of the emotional suffering we experience is the result of wrong karmic choices.
This isn’t to apply blame but to indicate that we haven’t “taken that class”, so the universe — that wonderful mystery some of us call God — enrolls us in a new education program.
Having the courage to stay in class, go deeply into the experience, learn the lessons, and then get the diploma has two advantages. First, you get to graduate, not having to repeat that class. Second, because we are all connected, your learning becomes part of the collective conscious. All of humanity finds it just a little easier to navigate through this particular passage on life’s journey.
Approaching any suffering with the question: “How can I use this situation to make a positive difference in the world?”, will orient you to the deeper truth the universe is showing you by your experience. And thereby, you will receive more grace to the process because you are aligning your “self” with the grand purpose — the evolution of consciousness.
David Rickey is an Episcopal priest, Soul’s Code co-founder and counselor in San Francisco who does a weekly ministry at a residence for the elderly in northern California. Follow David on Twitter.
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