Friday, June 8, 2012

Pain is the Touchstone

A good friend and spiritual advisor has often said to me, "Pain is the touchstone of all Spiritual Growth."

I used to really hate it when he said that. I don't hate it now. But swallowing the truth of it isn't always that easy.

Most of the growth in my life has been preceded by various amounts of pain. All past pain in my life has provided fertile ground for future growth - whether I saw it that way or not!

Before going forward I think it's a good idea to define what I mean by Spiritual Growth. It simply means that I grow, deepen and develop Spiritual qualities such as: Patience, Love, Tolerance, Forgiveness, Humility, Service, Compasssion, Honesty, Peace, etc.

So now the examples of painful past experiences: I lost a job, I embarassed myself, I hurt my body, I made a mistake, I said something I shouldn't have, I failed, I dissapointed someone - all painful events.  What's on the other side of these episodes? An opportunity to reflect, contemplate and improve the quality of my Spirit - OR - an opportunity to continue the cycle of pain.

My inital and habitual responses to events such as those listed above used to be to defend, deflect, defer and cover-up. Pride would not want me to look bad. Fear would make sure I didn't. Anger would be my weapon if I was ever questioned. Silent regret would continue to smolder in my mind and heart. And thus the pain would fester and multiply creating more painful events.  

The Yoga Sutras say,.. all future pain can and should be avoided - but how to do that?

I have to look the pain straight in the eye and ask it what it wants to teach me? When in pain I have to ask myself what part I played in bringing this on. Where was I selfish, self-centered, dishonest or afraid? Where did I try to force my opinions, motives and beliefs (no matter how well-intended) upon someone or some circumstance? Where was I arrogantly trying to play God - trying to control life's events to suit my desires and will? (Yuck!) 

When I look at my pain in this way I see that it's usually me that sets the pain pill in motion. For me, seeing the truth of who I am and how I really behave is the most painful pill to swallow. I don't like seeing myself like that. But I'm human and I sometimes walk far off the beam. I make mistakes. I do stupid shit. Yet, if there's any hope for growth - Spiritual Growth - I have to take the medicine, swallow the pill and get honest with myself about what I've brought into any situation - and then, I have to discover what Spiritual Quality should be brought into the situation to make it right. Then I can right the wrong, grow up and act like the man I was born to become. 

Pain is the Touchstone.