The Power of Pain

Posted by Erin Aquin on Jul 24, 2014 9:36:11 AM

Not long ago, I wrote an article about what not to do when someone is sick. I won't sugar coat it, living with a chronic health condition or emotional pain is not easy or fun, but if one is willing to look hard enough there are some beautiful things to be learned even in the midst raw and constant discomfort. Today I want to share some of my hard earned lessons with you and see if pain has been a powerful force in your life as well.

The Power of Pain


Let's be clear. Dealing with pain whether due to an illness, physical or emotional trauma is horrible. My own struggle with chronic pain is due to severe joint inflammation all over my body that started late this past winter. I went from being a relatively healthy, vibrant person to feeling decimated with every step I took in a matter of weeks.

It was a major life upheaval. You might be able to relate to this kind of shock if you have ever experienced the ending of a romantic or business partnership, a major illness, injury or any other gut wrenching event that usually comes with a heavy dose of pain and suffering. Like me, you may have found that you are forced to begrudgingly change directions rapidly and without warning. However if you are brave enough, in the midst of suffering you will find the opportunity to dive beyond the dizzying surface discomfort. Just below that seemingly insurmountable, relentless pain there are pockets of powerful lessons waiting to be discovered. Today I share the most important lessons I have learned so far.

Pain Makes You Tough

Before chronic pain was the norm, I had aches and pains just like everyone else. I would whine about being sore when going to yoga or the gym more than necessary (BTW: it is never necessary to whine). Now I wake up in pain every day no matter what I have done the day before. Recently, I made the decision that if I am going to be sore anyway, I might as well earn it. Answering the challenge to find out what I can do despite pain and discomfort has been completely empowering. Now I love taking a challenging class that I would have previously avoided. 

Pain has a way toughening you up if you let it, especially if it is a full time companion. At some point you must decide if you are going to make this bundle of sensation your enemy and waste your energy demonizing it, or if you are going to live your life in a new reality that pain is now a part of. In fact if you are living with it, you are already tough enough to deal with it.

Pain Creates Space  

Pain creates the opportunity for space whether you wanted it or not. If a major fundamental life pillar is disrupted, not only do you have to deal with the direct consequences of that, but you have to take care of everything that was resting or depending on that pillar to be there. For instance at the end of a relationship, it isn't just the heartache of losing someone important that hurts, there are all the future plans you had made together and any practical life details or routines to be dealt with. It's a pain to battle with details when you aren't emotionally at your best but this vulnerable place provides you with unabashed freedom to rethink your direction.

Do you still want or need to move forward with the plans you made with your ex? Are those daily routines and practical details working for you as a solo player?

The pain of loss in any form is a sobering collision with a new reality. At times it may hurt too much to see it, but the gap created by the loss of any pillar be it a partner, your job or your health opens up a lot of space. My mentor and friend Jeff Carreira put this into perspective for me just the other day. He said "Right now you are in a beautiful space where life has been disrupted and a whole new future has opened up. You don't know a what moment you could be picked up by a new life mission that will catapult you somewhere completely unexpected". It was both comforting and exciting to think that pain might end up being the thing that lights the way into the future.

Pain Makes You a Compassionate Badass

A compassionate badass is what I call someone who feels deep love, care and empathy for others and because of that works viciously (like a stubborn bulldog) to create avenues for change. Moments when you are in the midst of pain offer a visceral connection to what suffering feels like. While many people choose to sink into a dismal abyss for a time, others seem to transform that overwhelming force into creative energy. Suffering for the latter type helps catalyze great works of art, music, poetry or may take the form of a project to inspire and feed the souls of others. Being a compassionate badass means you minimize time spent wallowing in self-pity in favour of being a beacon of inspiration to others around you. The ability to be real and raw about your experience and relate that to others is the first part. Feeling stirred enough to rally and engage that passion into action, is the second part. Put both together and you might just be a compassionate badass.

Pain Reminds You to Enjoy Life

Before my experience with chronic pain began, I lived to work. Teaching yoga is an amazing career and I was hitting my stride with a major growth spurt here on Aquin Yoga creating new online classes and in-person programs and retreats. Slowly my personal needs became the runner up to my professional life. I started working 6-7 days a week and while I loved it, it was difficult for me to take any time off or relax deeply. I felt guilty simply reading a book for fun instead of for my own education or development. When the pain started, it became clear that for a long time I had not been paying attention to creating joy in my life.

I won't lie and say I am grateful for the discomfort and suffering I have experienced, but there's no denying that it reminded me to enjoy life and not take the good health and good days I am afforded for granted. This last lesson is for everyone. You don't need to be experiencing any layer of turmoil whatsoever to know this. There is no telling when life will take a sharp turn. This is true for everyone all the time. If you aren't enjoying your amazing life figure it out now. Don't waste one single day accepting mediocrity or putting off the positive things you love.    

What lessons have you uncovered during painful moments? Share with us in the comments below. 

Photo Credit: "Power On" by Lemsipmatt

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