Fun topic, right? According to the Buddha, all sentient beings are basically trying to avoid pain and find pleasure. So much of what we do is governed by this principle. Think about it. We run from pain, grief, and loss– and towards happiness– on a regular basis. Work not going great? Shopping spree. End of a relationship? Ice cream. Feelings hurt by someone? Lots to drink, Netflix binge, pick your poison.
There are a lot of ways we numb out pain to get a hit-of-happy. But they don’t work. You might a get a short-term fix, but numbing isn’t healing. It doesn’t work to numb out pain or grief or avoid loss. It isn’t even that it doesn’t work, it isn’t possible. Life has pain and grief and loss and if you’re living, you’re going to feel it at some point or other.
But, believe it or not, pain has a point. Yes, you heard that right. Emotional pain serves a unique purpose in our lives. What we do with it determines what our experience is.
My dad always has said to me in times of trouble, “You are gaining a million dollars of experience you wouldn’t want to pay a nickel for.” He was always right. When you are feeling wounded, sometimes pep talks help and sometimes they just piss you off. And believe me, I have been that person that was so angry and hurt that anything positive seemed unattainable and unbelievable. But I’ve been blessed (or lucky or whatever you want to call it) because I tend to keep trying. Eventually. When I’m not hurting so much.
Pain comes in many forms. Loss of a loved one, loss of a dream, grief over an accident, loss of ability, loneliness, being hurt by another. Ultimately, pain comes from the loss of something we desired or valued. And that, my friend, is something that is very important to remember about pain or grief– experiencing it means that what is gone mattered to you. It mattered to you a great deal.
I believe that things happen for a reason. I really do. But I also believe that we are often responsible for deciding what the reason is– for giving our experience meaning. And finding meaning in the experience of pain, while entirely un-fun, is critical to how we move on from these experiences. And that is where the healing is. Healing is in being able to find the gratitude for what you lost in the midst of all the pain of loss. In being able to find meaning that supports you in the journey you want for yourself. In being able to feel pain and know that it isn’t forever. No feeling is ever the final one, even when it feels like it will go on forever. And ever…
I’m writing about pain and grief today because I am experiencing pain and grief today. This day we had to say goodbye to our 13-year-old dog, Ernie. Two weeks ago he was diagnosed with heart cancer– the kind that had progressed to the point that there is nothing really to be done. Things went downhill fast. We had to make the decision to let him go. We adopted him when he was a year old and it has been twelve amazing years of the most fabulous dog. I’ve cried and cried. I feel his absence in our home. But even in the midst of this heartache, I have laughed about the funny things he did and focused on the memories I have of him that are lovely. I hurt and I feel grief, but I also feel gratitude.
You might relate to losing a pet. You might not. You might relate to losing a family member. I know you relate to loss on some level because we all have experienced loss. Love is love and loss is a loss, no matter what form they come in. Bottom line is loss usually leads to pain and grief. But remember, grief is a sign that you had something of great value. And the value, in the end, is the part that enriches our lives– the part that makes the pain worth it. My life was better for having Ernie, even though the loss causes me great pain. My heart is breaking and my eyes are leaking, but I’m grateful for what I had, even though he’s gone.
In the midst of your own pain, when it comes (and it will come), remember that it is a signal that you had something that was great, that you had something worth being grateful for. When you are able, look for and focus on what you loved about what you lost. You can’t outrun pain, no matter what you do. But pleasure is on the other side of pain, even when it doesn’t feel like it. You had something beautiful. If you have love, you have grief built in. It’s just the way it goes. Life is complicated. Life is painful. But life is also beautiful. And life is love. Life is…life.