As I’ve mentioned a small handful of times I live with chronic pain. I have RSD, a nerve disease, and endometriosis, a condition which causes growths outside of the uterus where they don’t belong. And most recently I’ve been dealing with increasing shoulder pain and weakness due to a tear and cyst in my labrum, the cartilage around my shoulder socket, for which I’m slated to have surgery to repair next week. I was recently talking with a sangha friend who, after asking me some questions about my health, said: “I wish I knew why bad things happen to good people.” I then replied: “Actually, I am extremely grateful for the pain I’ve gone through and continue to have, it has taught me so much.” It may sound like some kind of hoaky Hallmark card or cheesy after-school-special but I truly am deeply grateful for the experiences I’ve had and continue to have with chronic pain. I don’t see my situation as a bad thing at all (although I used to when my journey with RSD first began). Pain has been my greatest and most valuable teacher – there are some things I just don’t think I would’ve learned otherwise.
So I got to thinking about the lessons I’ve learned through having pain – so I thought I’d jot some of them down, in no particular order:
Lessons Pain Has Taught Me
1. I am not defined merely by what I am physically able to do. I am not defined by my pain/illness.
2. Learning the art of acceptance and embracing reduces the amount of suffering involved when faced with difficult situations.
3. There is a difference between pain and suffering. Pain is inevitable, suffering is optional.
4. I have control over how much I suffer.
5. Self-care is not a selfish act or just something nice to do when I have the time (which I never did), it’s an important ongoing practice that not only decreases my pain levels but allows me to continue my involvement in the things I hold dear.
6. Taking care of myself allows me to care well for others. Taking care of myself IS taking care of others.
7. My pain is not unique or special in anyway.
8. Pain is part of life, not separate.
9. Physical pain is no different than any other kind of pain: mental, emotional, social, or psychological.
10. No matter how high my pain is or how miserable I feel it can ALWAYS be worse.
11. Pain, like everything else, is impermanent.
12. The more I wish things were different then what they are the more I cause myself to suffer.
13. Joy is always possible and it’s up to me.
14. With my thoughts I make the world in which I live.
15. When I make friends with myself I become comfortable in my own skin, able to cultivate joy and ease in a varying set of ever changing circumstances.
16. Gratitude is a powerful healing medicine.
17. A good sense of humor and light-heartedness can be a strong beacon of light through the darkness.
18. Everything takes practice.
19. Life is too precious to take anything for granted. I live a life of great privilege.
20. If I’m suffering it means my perspective is too narrow and I’m being short-sighted and self-absorbed.
21. The only limitations I have are when I’m getting in my own way.
22. There is no greater gift than that of one’s own true presence being offered.
23. My calling is to walk the mindful road and help others to do the same.
24. This is the only moment, right now, that I know I have for sure.
25. I can always be useful, I can always be kind.