February 19

There’s Useful Pain and Then There’s Stupid Pain

February 19, 2014

Personal Growth

Over the years I have not been kind to my body. In my feeble defense I usually didn’t realize I was hurting myself. I love working hard in the outdoors—cutting trees and hauling enormous logs, moving boulders, building bridges, pushing thousand-pound buggies of gravel and concrete, and so on. It gets my blood pumping, and I just enjoy it. My favorite sports—racquetball, tennis, weightlifting—have also been vigorous and pounding, mostly on my joints. All the exertion has certainly been complicated by decades of eating a few more cheeseburgers than were absolutely necessary.

So I herniated a vertebral disc early in my 20s, requiring back surgery in 1995. My left shoulder was reconstructed in 2009. In 2010 a torn meniscus in the left knee was removed, with multiple injections subsequently of various medications. In 2012 I had extensive back surgery for disc herniation, compressed spinal nerve roots, and chronic arthritis. Finally, a few weeks ago both of my knees were replaced at the same time.

I am no stranger to pain, but I’ve learned that not all pain is the same: there’s useful pain and then there’s stupid pain. When I touch a hot coal with my hand, the pain is useful. Without it, I wouldn’t move my hand, and I could experience a much more serious burn.

In recent years the pain in my knee informed me that I needed meniscus surgery and injections. Eventually, chronic pain informed me that I needed to quit fooling around and simply replace the knees. I knew that the pain after surgery would be much worse than the pain I’d learned to live with for years, but I was quite willing to endure this, because after a sufficient period of recovery I was confident that the pain would diminish or disappear.

I’m now at six weeks after surgery, and the post-operative pain has at times been excruciating—much worse than I had anticipated, despite all the warnings—especially as I’ve done the physical therapy required to ensure that the surgical results would be lasting. But already I can tell that the eventual results will be worth what I’ve been enduring. This post-op discomfort hasn’t been especially useful but instead falls into another category of pain—necessary.

On a number of occasions it has occurred to me that the physical pain in my knees has been similar to the pain we all experience emotionally. We all get wounded emotionally. We’re surrounded by imperfect human beings, so this pain is unavoidable. Most of us are wounded with great frequency and regularity from childhood—as I injured my joints—and this pain can be useful, especially in adulthood. From this pain we learn that we have wounds that must be attended to. If we ignore this pain—or if we just don’t know what to do about it—the wounding and the pain continue.

And then we learn about Real Love. We learn that almost everything we were ever taught about love and happiness was wrong, and if we wish to eliminate our pain, we have to be willing to embrace an entirely different way of living. We need our perspectives and understanding replaced, much as my knees needed to be replaced.

This emotional surgery is no small thing. Until we’ve received enough loving and guidance, we sometimes feel like we’re trapped between two worlds. We’re giving up so many familiar—and even cherished—principles, but we’re not yet bathed in the healing waters of Real Love. This is disorienting and even painful. The pain of transition can be much more painful than the chronic pain of not being loved, to which we are accustomed. As we learn the truth, we also open up wounds we’ve covered up for a lifetime, and that adds even more pain. And then there’s the endless application of new principles—physical therapy for the soul, if you like—that hurts but helps us to maintain the changes we’re making.

So why go through this emotional upheaval—often to the point of anguish—that results from learning about Real Love and implementing it? Simple, because the alternative—continuing to live a life without the truth and unconditional love—is ENDLESSLY and STUPIDLY painful.

We CANNOT avoid all pain. Living is often painful. Change is painful. Learning and recovery from even loving correction is painful. But the pain of recovery is USEFUL and necessary pain. The rewards that come from being truly loving—peace, joy, and great relationships—are worth ALL the pain we encounter in the process of achieving those rewards.

The recovery from my surgery has been gradual, not an instant result. Same with Real Love. Occasionally I have also been frustrated by the pain, the limitations in movement, the inability to even rise unassisted from a chair. But frustration didn’t help me in any way. It was a foolish waste of time and energy, just as it is in emotional recovery. When we indulge our frustration, we figuratively sit in the middle of the road, weeping rivers of tears that turn the dust into mud, only making everything worse.

Learn from your pain. Treat it as information and thereby make all the pain in your life useful. Don’t be satisfied with familiar and tolerable pain. When you avoid the painful lessons, you remain mired in the stupid pain, and that is unnecessary and tragic.

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