Monday Musings: On a scale of 1 to 10, Rate your Level of Pain

In a class recently, I gave my students a list of possible goals they may want to achieve in life. Happiness topped the list for many of them. But what does ‘happiness’ really mean? If you ask Will Smith, in his movie, The Pursuit of Happyness, it’s not letting anyone stop you from pursuing your dreams. As he says: “If you have a dream, go for it.”

The movie shows Will, struggling to find his purpose in life and then when he thinks he finds it, he faces

continual rejection, failure and hardship. And so, in his quest for a blissful state, he endures suffering. I’m not sure that the students who wrote’ happiness’ counted on suffering being part of the package deal of life.

Suffering is the great equalizer in this life. It doesn’t matter your age, gender, race, or income, suffering is likely to be a part of your story. The exhausted mom with young children struggling to cope with the domino effect of cold and flu season. The independent senior who slips and falls breaking her hip who now faces the challenges of rehabilitation. The diligent student who is reeling from failing one course, only to be told they can no longer continue on their chosen path, even though they had followed Will Smith’s advice. The middle-aged man, whose healthy diet and active lifestyle did not protect him from esophageal cancer. The young adult whose family rejected them, not knowing how they can make their bank account last until the end of the month as they try to survive on their own. You don’t have to scroll your news feeds to look for suffering.

How do you rate a level of pain, especially when it involves disappointment, rejection, failure, or just not understanding why ‘this’ had to happen? Pain is relative and individual for sure, and no matter how you rate it for the professionals, it boils down to suffering you didn’t bargain for.

So, what do you do when suffering comes knocking on your door? The first reaction most often is to complain. Why me? Why now? This is so unfair! The second reaction, however often takes on of the following forms:

  • you can deny it exists (and hope it goes away on its own or in time)

  • you can disguise the reality by finding a way to numb the pain so you can carry on

  • you can resolve to defend your mindset that “I won’t let this get the best of me”.

What is your tactic?

Pain and suffering serve as sirens intended to wake you up to the fact that something is wrong and, therefore, demands action. So, denial is not a preferred solution. Being stoic that nothing is wrong gives you the illusion that things will be ok. But really, it is pushing off the inevitable acknowledgement, that may end up being more painful because you waited.

More often today though, people disguise their pain and suffering. While you may be so public with the wonderful things happening in your life, it is a risk to let others into your private world of pain. So, you might look for a quick fix to numb the pain, to get your mind off of the reality, or to delay dealing with the source and consequence of the pain. You know you are suffering, but prefer to do it in silence. The pain does not diminish, though you may convince yourself that quick fixes can get you through until you have time to deal with the problem. But just like denial, suffering generally doesn’t diminish. You remain stuck, feeling hopeless and helpless, cloaked in darkness and fear.

The preferred solution is to counterattack, to face the fear head on, and push through the flood or the fire that suffering brings. This doesn’t require a strategic battle plan necessarily. But it does mean putting one foot in front of the other and keeping a forward-looking perspective. It is a moment by moment, breath by breath, uphill push. You will think it is impossible. That there is no hope. And you may feel like giving up or giving in. You aren’t the first, nor will you be the last to suffer. Your scars of suffering can be used to help someone else down the road whose dreams are clouded by hardship. There is tremendous power in trusting that there is purpose in that pain.

So, try changing your perspective. On a scale of 1 to 10, rate the happiness you feel when you’ve pushed through the pain and suffering that you have endured. Go for that!

For this week’s song I’ve chosen Tenth Avenue North’s: “I Have This Hope” where “no tear is ever cried in vain”.

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