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Lessons from Pain

July 12, 2013

July 12, 2013

This morning I woke early to the intense burning pain of sciatica pulsing through my leg and hip.  I had been asleep only 2 hours; it was now 4 a.m.  Unable to find a position in bed that eased the pain, I hoisted myself into my wheel chair, and wheeled myself to the kitchen thinking I might be able to make a cup of coffee and start the day as the sun rose.  When I managed to get myself into the kitchen—painstakingly bumping over the threshold of our bedroom room and traversing the obstacle course of the dinning room and kitchen hallway—I realized the futility of my endeavor.  Because the sciatic pain was so intense from the two hours of sleep (two hours of not moving), I could not even rise from the chair long enough to grab a coffee cup from the cupboard, let alone fill the coffee pot.  And so I sat. Tears of frustration in my eyes, in the kitchen, feeling intense pain.

Soon, the light of morning began to rise over the Rincon Mountains.  I turned my attention to the window, and away from the unattainable coffee pot.  The light, filtering through the remnants of our desert monsoon rain clouds, broke into brilliant rays and slowly lit the Catalina Mountains to the north; it illuminated the flower garden just outside my window.

I could hear the words of my teacher—some of my favorite words:  “when we forget we are here on this planet to learn lessons, we feel tremendous suffering—but when we remember that it is just a lesson, the suffering disappears and we are able to appreciate what we have to learn from pain.

As his words echoed in my mind, I made a conscious effort to turn my attention to the beauty before me rather than the pain that pulsed through my leg.  I watched the shades of sky shift from grey to pink, the mountains turn from black to purple and then blue.  I looked in awe at the beauty of the garden as the light brightened each flower.

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As I sat watching this amazing display of beauty, I did not feel any relief of pain.  But I did feel relief from suffering.  My body may hurt—but my mind can be free of suffering if I choose to see the lesson (which for me was a deeper understanding of one of the “Eight Worldly Thoughts:” being unhappy when you feel bad).

The Eight Worldly Thoughts are these:

  • Being happy when you get what you want; being unhappy when you don’t
  • Being happy when you feel well; being unhappy when you don’t
  • Being happy when you are famous or recognized; being unhappy when you aren’t
  • Being happy when others praise you; being unhappy when they don’t.

Many masters of Eastern philosophy have explained these in detail.  I will just briefly say that they are not intended to suggest we lose joy in life, or worse that we don’t care about making efforts to maintain our health, goodness, and well-being.  Rather, the intention behind avoiding these thoughts it to DETACH our happiness from our external situations so that we can be happy ALL the time, regardless of whether we are wealthy, are appreciated by others, feel healthy, or are being praised.

When we attach our happiness to such external worldly things, we will surely suffer because we cannot attain them all the time—and even when we do, they often fail to provide the happiness we hoped to find in them.

Instead, if we develop a state of happiness within our minds, the external situations become irrelevant to our happiness.  We can be without that new car we want and still be happy.  We can also be happy with the new car, knowing that the car will certainly get old.  We can be happy with our health and strength, but we can also be happy as our bodies get sick or old, which they will certainly do.  We can rejoice in beautiful relationships, while recognizing that in one way or another they will end.

Avoiding the Eight Worldly Thoughts is about letting go of our belief that our external circumstances dictate the state of our mind and our ability to be happy.

This morning, I was able to focus not on my pain and suffer because of it, but on the beauty of a new dawn and the opportunity to grow from this experience, as these flowers do.

Personal Update: My husband, Charlie is now on in-home care hospice as the cancer he has been fighting for 18 months slowly debilitates him.  I have been his full-time caregiver during this time, even when I had a double mastectomy to treat my own cancer in April of this year.  Sunday, July 7th I woke up with horrid sciatic pain in my left leg.  Within hours I was unable to walk.  I am currently seeking treatment, both western and eastern, to ease the pain so that I can again take up my work of caring for Charlie and teaching meditation courses. 

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One comment

  1. […] can give thanks that your body has taught you important lessons about pain and the mental and emotional strength you have in bearing […]



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