Pain: Acceptance & Appreciation

Acceptance of pain? No way!

Deep down, we all feel this way, even though we’ve been told things like, “no pain, no gain.” If we willingly endure discomfort, we do so only because we expect repayment with comfort afterward. We forgo partying in order to study, so that we can achieve our goals and win the rewards success promises. We sacrifice for loved ones because supporting others promotes feelings of satisfaction and worthiness.

The transactional nature of personal sacrifice doesn’t undercut the reality of altruism. Helpfulness serves the collective, but wise people recognize the collective serves the individual. Altruism thus pays for itself twice: first with worthy feelings, and later with reciprocal kindness.

But the pain that life imposes, pain that isn’t chosen, seems an entirely different proposition. If we suffer an agonizing illness, where’s the payoff? If a loved one dies, where’s the benefit? In many cases, we feel nothing but loss.

And yet, in time, there is often gain. A threatening health problem makes one more appreciative of the simple fact of living. A major loss leads, in many cases, to new relationships and deeper roots of strength. Even the shattering trauma that so many suffer in childhood can, in time, lead to profound maturation. Think how many remarkable people have grown up under trying circumstances.

Pain leads onward to something greater than pain. Yes, it’s wearying to suffer, but one finds acceptance as weariness becomes a kind of tenderness, a compassion for self and others.

I’ve been enduring chronic pain for more than twenty years. What’s more, major depression has knocked me down countless times since adolescence. There were many years when it felt like more than I could bear. But bear I did, and now life seems all the more remarkable. A greater sense of enjoyment is available to me than I ever thought possible. It isn’t pain-free; I wouldn’t even say it’s without sorrow. But life has taught me that the awesome experience of living is worth the price, however high. Childhood trauma, chaotic adulthood, major setbacks, and painful illness? I say yes to them all, because they have softened and enlarged me.

Yes, I say, despite the lost years, the faded dreams, the wasted energies. What I’ve learned is that even unchosen pain brings rewards. All it takes is patience, curiosity, and perseverance. And with a little help from others we can slowly find acceptance–and even appreciation–in the reality of pain.