All those spiritual teachers make it sound easy, don’t they?
Teachings such as “Follow our breath,” “Let it all go,” and “Awaken to the truth that we are all one” just roll of the tongue as if we can easily embrace these simple truths at any moment.
And when we feel good, these spiritual teachings seem easy. They feel refreshing and they invigorate us. When we feel good, these spiritual teachings make us feel like good people, because we can follow our breath easily, and it is not such a problem to let go of all the crud that happened during our day.
It seems easy to follow these spiritual teachings until the sh*t really hits the fan in our lives—and then it seems hard.
Sometimes it’s so difficult that we don’t want to continue on with this life at all.
The challenge, then, is to be able to stick with the teachings that excite us when we feel good even when we are feeling bad, even when we are in pain. Since pain is the true ground where real spiritual transformation lies, understanding how to employ the teachings when we are suffering is crucial to our journey.
No one wants to be in pain—that is why we spend so much time and energy trying to avoid it. But since pain is inevitable, learning how to work with pain skillfully is a very important skill.
When we are in pain, we can ask one essential question:
What is the opportunity here?
This is a hard question to ask ourselves. On the one hand, we are so very willing to open and grow. When we are feeling strong and vibrant we feel so committed to taking this soul path we are presently on as far as it will possibly go.
But on the other hand, the discomfort of the growth can feel like too much. When the pain is right in our faces, we tend to see that we are all alone, that the work is so much, and that we will never make any spiritual progress anyways, so what is the point of trying.
It is like we can taste the opportunity for growth when we are up against it, but when we come from a place of fear, we can’t always reach it. It feels like spiritual growth will only come about with more discomfort, and this is what we want to avoid when we’re suffering.
It can seem so confusing. We may not be so sure as to where we are going—all we do know is that it hurts, and we just want it all to stop. We just want to get to safer ground—safer and more familiar ground. Somewhere that feels like we know who we are, even if it is some sort of false identity.
This is why Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche has told us we need to be spiritual warriors, because the path is challenging.
It is painful and hard, but we keep going anyways.
This is what we train for in meditation.
Ultimately, meditating is just a way to get better at being uncomfortable.
When we meditate, we sit still not to punish ourselves, but to build our tolerance for discomfort.
The mind gets busy, anxiety creeps up on us, our sense that there are super important things that need to get done tries to knock us over—but we just stay sitting still. We practice meditation when we are bored, when we are happy, when we are sad and when we are agitated, in order to to build our tolerance for the myriad of ways the human journey is uncomfortable.
Then one day real pain hits us—we get sick or scared or someone we love falls down and it hurts our hearts.
When these inevitable painful human moments hit us, our meditation practice reminds us that our response is our choice: we can either fall into victim mode and rage against the ways of the world, or we can ask the one essential question that will propel our spiritual growth forward:
What is the opportunity here?
And let me fill you in on a little secret: the opportunity that pain brings us is always the spiritual catchphrases that we love so much when we feel good and resist against when we are in pain.
The opportunity is to:
Follow our breath.
Let it all go.
Awaken to the truth that we are all one.
Pain always offers a chance to see the impermanent nature of everything. We feel pain because we wish things were different then they are. We want to hold on to an imaginary way we wish life was instead of standing in its reality.
This is why pain is an opportunity—to come back to breath, which is always real, and let go of whatever fantasies or belief systems are holding us to our own suffering. It is an opportunity to deepen our compassion to all beings who are also in pain and suffering today.
This is not easy—often, it is anything but easy.
But it is also not hard.
The dance steps to using pain to awaken our consciousness aren’t complicated, but they do take strength. They also take willingness and a quality of courage that we need on this planet in a very real way.
If pain is part of your reality today, my heart goes out to you.
No one deserves to feel pain, and no one has acted in a way that pain is their punishment.
We are all here to learn and grow, and if pain isn’t one of our wisest teachers, I don’t what is.
Author: Ruth Lera
Image: Flickr/UD Misi
Editors: Renée Picard; Catherine Monkman