The Value of Pain
We often refer to the difficult times in our lives as dark
times. When you lose someone you love or your health
deteriorates, when you are abandoned or rejected, or when
innumerable difficulties pile up and you sink into
depression and hopelessness--in these dark times you may
feel you are drowning or being buried alive. Some
hours are so dark that you may barely see a faint light at
the end of the tunnel, and it may seem almost futile to
keep struggling toward it.
Despite the difficulty, the darkest times of our lives are
often the most meaningful. These are the times when
we cannot identify our fears and we are forced to pay
attention to what we are feeling inside. What
happens then, when you listen to your feelings and not
your intellect? Your problems become your teacher,
healer, and enlightener. The compost becomes
When you are not afraid to dwell in the darkness, you
create fertile ground for change. It is no different
from a gardener preparing the ground for planting.
But it takes courage to face emotional pain and
uncertainty. And it takes wisdom to know that a
greater good will come from your willingness to explore
what your mind tells you to fear and avoid.
is tempting to numb the pain or distract ourselves so we
won't have to dwell in the darkness and learn from
it. If you give into the temptation to use
anesthesia, you lose the guidance your feelings can
offer. We need our pain to protect and direct us.
Self-analysis may seem at first like surgery without
anesthesia, and of course no one wants that
experience. Our culture teaches us how to numb and
distract ourselves but not how to listen to our pain and
learn from our difficulties. Think what we learn
about pain from television. We learn that pain is to
be avoided at all costs and that there are a variety of
pain relievers for every conceivable pain. I would
like to see a television commercial that says, "Your
pain is a great teacher. Learn from it and be
Do not be afraid to work in your garden. Let your
innate intelligence direct you out from under the compost
heaped upon you. Your tears will provide the water
that softens the soil and leads you to the light.
You will then grow straight, tall, and free of
scars. Now is the right season for growth; be
inspired and start toward the light. It is not as
far away as it seems. Remember that a good seed sees
no light, but knows the right direction to grow in.
That knowledge and wisdom is in you, too.
Pain that is buried continues to hurt. Physicians,
firefighters, and nurses all suffer when they bury the
pain of their professions deep inside them. Buried
pain needs release. I would give the same advice to
a war veteran or emergency room physician or police
officer or anyone who is storing painful memories:
Start to talk and write about the painful event and take
the lid off your feelings. Only then can you begin
to heal. If you do not, the buried pain will take
its toll. You will become a mummy wrapped in pain,
blind to life. When the pain is released it makes
room for love to come in.
At seminars I sometimes ask people if they'd like total
freedom from pain. I warn them, though, that while
it may seem like a lovely idea at first, freedom from all
emotional and physical pain can be a threat to one's
well-being. Stop and think about it: Without
pain, how will you know when you are sick, in need of
treatment? How will you know if you've been burned,
pinched, or injured in any way?
There is an important difference between pain and
suffering. Suffering is an emotional response.
Pain is a physical response that protects and defines you
so you take care of yourself and avoid further
injury. When you can't avoid injury, pain compels
you to get help or treatment. Why are we afraid of
something as useful as pain? What makes it
The intensity of your pain is related to how you feel
about it. Pain is unbearable only when it has no
meaning. Listen to your body and learn from
it. Talk to your pain, define it and ask what it can
teach you. You pain will always have an answer if
you are willing to hear it. When there is a conflict
in your life and no meaning to the pain, it is very hard
to control. I see this in people with problems
ranging from headaches to life-threatening diseases.
When the discomfort leads them to make the proper life
decisions, whether the choice is to live or to die, the
pain leaves. It has done its work.
book is a continuation of the work I began when I
became Bernie. It is a collection of stories about
how to deal with life's difficulties. Most of the
people in these stories have not had the great
wake-up call; that is, they are mot facing
life-threatening illnesses. So in a sense, this
book is preventive medicine. It is a prescription
for living that gives you effective and healthy
ways of dealing with the adversity that occurs in
everyone's life. I want to help you learn to
accept your morality before something catastrophic
brings you face-to-face with the end of your life.
-- From the Introduction