An Unlikely Source of Wisdom

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“It’s So Counterintuitive!” she said. “Yes, it is.” I affirmed.

The young woman calling the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline suffered from sporadic, chronic, gastrointestinal pain. She thought she might have eaten something the prior weekend that aggravated the condition. As a result, she was in great pain. I asked if she would be willing to take a moment to focus on the pain “Truly feel it…try not to fear or avoid it,” I asked. After a few moments I asked how she felt. She revealed there was considerably less pain. “It’s interesting,” she said. “A moment ago, I felt pain through my entire body. Now, as I experience it, and accept it rather than fight it, I realize it is centered in my abdomen. The pain throughout the rest of my body is gone.

She admitted that when I first suggested she stop trying to distract herself, and instead acknowledge and accept the pain, it felt counterintuitive. It is, but for many, the fear of pain, causes us to conjure images of it eating us alive. We fear it will never cease. It can take us captive and never let us escape its clutches. When we focus on pain, accept rather than fight it, we come to appreciate and acknowledge its true size and scope. The fear we have lessens and the grasp it has on us loosens.

 Near the end of the call, she asked if a similar practice might help with emotional pain. I said I have seen that as well.

I spoke with a young man, distraught because he feared am important relationship in his life might be ending. He was not sure he had the strength to deal with such tremendous loss; his girlfriend meant the world to him. In a similar fashion I asked this young man to focus on the sadness and fear and try to accept rather than deny them. We sat quietly for a few moments, and he began to speak. “What was so helpful in those moments was the insight I gained by exploring my feelings. I realized that a great deal of my fear comes from blaming myself for every failure in the relationship, from the smallest to the most egregious. I was able to separate the sadness over the loss, from the life-deadening guilt of feeling I am not enough. While I do not want the relationship to end, I can admit that it may simply be due to incompatibility and not because I am inept or cruel. When I tell myself I am enough, I know, if this relationship does fail, I will find another that is even more fulfilling for each of us.” To witness a young man discover, in a few moments, that he is enough fills me with gratitude for the work I am bless to be given.

I don’t, even for a moment, wish to discount or downplay the horrific physical and emotional pain suffered by thousands of souls I have spoken to over the years. A caller in her 20s feels pain from head to toe from the moment she awakes to the moment she put head to pillow. A recent surgery meant to help, seems to have made it worse. I cannot imagine living with such a demon every waking moment, nor would I even know how to ask her to acknowledge and accept such anguish.

None of us wishes to live in pain, but, when we find ways to befriend it, accept it, and converse with it, it can, occasionally, offer insights that are profound and even lifesaving.

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