Pain's Surprising Lesson

The recovery community has a number wise and insightful sayings, including this one:
"Pain is inevitable; suffering is optional"
You might run into this saying as a quote attributed to Buddha because it has a certain Buddhist feel to it. The idea is that our aversion to the pain causes more suffering than the actual pain does. When we embrace all of life, even the hard parts, suffering doesn't consume us. When we accept reality, we don't suffer from the mismatch with what we think it should be.

3. Yehuda's Story

Rabbi Yehudah Fine was in a head-on collision. He writes:
“I vividly remember lying in the local emergency room before being helicoptered to a big medical center. I wasn’t a pretty picture. Firemen had pried me out of the car with the Jaws of Life. Blood covered my face, teeth, and lips, the result of the impact with the air bag that saved my life. A torn pants leg revealed a smeared mixture of dirt and blood oozing out of a deep gash in my knee. The force of the collision had rammed my femur out of its socket. My pelvis was shattered into nine pieces. I was broken in half. I had not yet received any painkillers and was suffering mind-bending pain. I prayed to pass out,... Before I was flown to the medical center, the emergency room doctor told me that they could not transport me until they repositioned my femur bone. I gritted my teeth and said, ‘Doc, isn’t the pain going to kill me? What if it doesn’t go right back in?’

He simply said, ‘For your survival, I have to get it back in right now.’ Without warning, the doctor jumped on my gurney, grabbed my leg, and shoved it toward what was left of my pelvis. The pain slammed into me so hard that I screamed in horror. The femur didn’t go back in.

Between crying and moaning, I whimpered, ‘Doc, I thought you’d give me painkillers before doing something like that.’

The doctor looked at me in astonishment. ‘You haven’t been given any pain medication?’ They quickly shot me up with Valium and Demerol and repeated the procedure. This time my leg went back in with a loud pop.

At that moment, although I was angry at the doctor’s insensitivity, I was also grateful for his fearless skill in taking the first step toward putting my back together. I took his hand and said, ‘I want you to know how grateful I am for your skill and courage. But damn it don’t ever do that to another patient.”

Right there, in that emergency room, I decided that I would give thanks to every person who attended my broken body. I was going to honor every act of kindness with words from my heart.... In the ensuing weeks I was totally helpless and in excruciating pain.... I often heard the voice of despair. It would whisper that the pain was too much, that I couldn’t and wouldn’t go on. And so I made up my mind to listen to other whispers.... The secret was not to fight the pain but to embrace it. Once I did that I started finding my strength.... The Talmud points out that, just as we bless the good, so too should we bless the bad. I always found that a profound concept.

But it is only now that I really understand how important it is to surrender to all of life’s blessings – the ‘good’ and the ‘bad.’... From the beginning I tried to accept that where I was, was exactly where I was meant to be. This freed my mind up to pursue my healing. It opened new doors to the spiritual realms, new doors to contemplation and meditation. There is a deep connection between brokenness and Spirit.... I may have been dealt a broken body and heart, but I also can tell you I have had more love and compassion poured over me, through me, and around me than I ever knew existed....

Sadly, we live in a world where we are so afraid of suffering’s teachings that we organize our lives around anesthetizing the messages of our anxiety and pain.... When you are caught up in one of those chain-saw massacre cycles of life, you come face-to-face with some important questions: What really matters to me in life? What precisely do I need to learn, change, and transform within myself? From whom or what will I take my direction and motivation?...

My daily practice now is to continually clean the chambers of my heart – to give and receive love, to stay present to myself and to others, to no longer flee, or worry, or procrastinate.... When crisis exploded in my life, the best in me was born. I found out what I was really capable of. I discovered who I really am.”
That’s Yehuda’s story. He took to heart pain's surprising lesson.

What Yehuda's and Glen's and Judi's stories – and so many others -- show us is how, as James Baldwin said,
“We are capable of bearing a great burden once we discover that the burden is reality and arrive where reality is.”
* * *
This is part 4 of 4 of "Broken Open"
Click for other parts:
Part 1: Seeing the Blessing in a Crisis
Part 2: The Miracle of Becoming
Part 3: The Wisdom of No Control

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