Pain: The Teacher
“Plato once said that pain restores order to the soul. Rumi said that it lops off the branches of indifference...Whatever else it does, pain offers an experience of being human that is as elemental as birth, orgasm, love, and death. Because it is so real, pain is an available antidote to unreality—not the medicine you would have chosen, perhaps, but an effective one all the same.”
Barbara Brown Taylor (An Altar in the World)
In her book, An Altar in the World, Barbara Brown Taylor relates a time when she was sick and had to stay in bed for a week. Being a naturally active person, this was extremely difficult for her to do. She began to watch the sunlight through the window as it made its way across the wall opposite her bed. From morning to night, it brightened and darkened, always changing. “It had a routine it followed all by itself whether I was awake to watch it or not. If I did not like the way the light looked, I knew it would change. If I loved the way the light looked at a given moment, I knew it would change.” She could neither speed it up, nor slow it down. This light became a metaphor for her life. Days of darkness, days of light, some “partly cloudy,” and most of it completely out of her control.
Life is like that. We all travel through good times and bad; we suffer indignities, rejoice in triumphs, and wade through the boring, ordinary minutia of everyday. Resisting pain, as “The Borg” would say, “is futile.” But we can allow it to shape us, and to teach us its lessons. When we run from pain in every way we possibly can, we are simply postponing the inevitable, and when it catches up, we are likely to be savagely unprepared. When we allow life to unfold in its own way, from light, to shadow, to darkness and back to light, we discover that the shadows and darkness can be filled with meaning.
Living through a painful, stressful time will clarify our priorities. It will let us know just how much we worry about that is either completely ludicrous, or totally out of our control. It sorts things out for us when we are unable to sort them for ourselves, and puts us directly in touch with reality in a way that nothing else can. I don't think we need go looking for painful situations and people just so we can experience its teachings; it will find us in due time. And when it does, we can reassure ourselves that this, too, will pass.
In the Spirit