Pain creates empathy. Whether we’re talking about physical pain, or emotional, nothing teaches us more about how things are for other people, than moving through pain ourselves. Of course we wouldn’t invite it. No one wants to break a bone, or blow out a knee or a shoulder, nor does anyone want to have his or her heart broken. We wouldn’t ask to be betrayed, or invite grief into our living rooms to sit down for tea, but when you look back on your life, I’m sure you can recognize how your pain has made it possible for you to understand and empathize with people going through their own.
Years ago, I injured my right (dominant) shoulder. I wasn’t listening to my body, I was listening to my teacher. Intense hands-on adjustments were part of the practice, so I just accepted that how I was feeling was “normal”, even though it was hard to breathe during certain “shoulder openers.” Eventually the discomfort turned to pain, and when I mentioned it, I was told it was, “an opening, not an injury.” It got to the point where I couldn’t lift a glass of water without feeling fire in my shoulder, like someone was sticking a knife into it. Chaturanga? Impossible. And at that point, I demanded a cessation of anything hands-on. It took months to heal. My whole practice was about listening to, and accommodating my shoulder. I had to modify a LOT. I was scared and humbled and I wondered if it was going to get better. I was angry at my teacher, but underneath that, I was really angry with myself. What more does your body have to do to grab your attention? Does your shoulder need to burst into flames? Eventually, through patience and rehab and compassion for myself, it healed completely, but I refused certain adjustments from then on because nobody is a better teacher than your own body. Apparently, that was a lesson I still needed to learn. Beyond that, it opened a whole new way of communicating with students with injuries. Prior to that, I knew what to tell someone anatomically. I knew what poses they should avoid or modify, and how. I knew what to tell them to do in order to strengthen, but I didn’t really understand the fear involved, the confrontation, the grappling with being attached to practicing the way we want to, and are used to practicing. As always, attachment leads to suffering.
I think for most people, fear is the worst part. We start to panic, and think things will always be this way. It’s the same when we’re heartbroken, grieving, depressed, or feeling stuck. Instead of opening to how things are, we contract. We resist. We tense up and try to push the experience away, or tear through it. Either of those responses prolongs the suffering. We don’t have to receive everything as a gift. We don’t have to be grateful for every loss or heartache we’re going to endure. That stuff does not have to go into your, “Thank you for this experience” file, but we never want to lose the opportunity to grow and open, and to pull some value out of our painful experiences, to allow them to soften us rather than harden us.
There are some things that happen in life that forever change us, and that’s just the truth. Certain knifing losses can change the shape of our hearts, and the way we’re moving through the world. There are some things we’re simply going to carry within us, but even those can make us softer and braver and kinder. That’s the amazing thing about the human heart. It’s resilient; it wants to heal. The most compassionate, insightful, empathetic people I know are also the ones who’ve suffered the most, and there’s beauty in that. Of course there are certain lessons we’d rather not know. Certain pain we’d prefer to keep in the box of “not me, thanks, I’ll pass on that opportunity to grow more”, but of course we don’t get to choose. Whenever you can, open more, reach out more, and trust that everything is always changing, and how things are now, is not how they will always be. Pull the beauty out of the pain, so you can withstand it and grow from it.
Sending you love,