Feeling Pain for the Last Time


“Who dares to suggest this pain could be felt for the last time?  What an audacious assertion.  Maybe your pain.  Not my pain.   Not with what I have been through.”

It’s a radical idea, bidding adieu to pains that have followed us through life.  Many of us learn empirically that ignoring them doesn’t really make them go away.  Some of us have grown accustomed to our pains, and perhaps, have let them seep into our identity, making them difficult to release.  How many of us have honestly tried confronting our pain, though?  Looking deep into our pains—staring down our demons—mines hope for healing.

To be successful, we must be thorough.  There are no shortcuts.  There is no advantage to wallowing, either.   If it’s a feeling you have been repressing, allow yourself to experience the feeling.  Is it as bad as you feared?  Is it worse?  Stay with the feeling and find out.  Conversely, maybe the feeling is extremely familiar, a feeling that you have slid into repeatedly through life without ever realizing its origin.  What kinds of situations lead you to this same old chestnut?  What connects these situations?  Is there an underlying belief that gives way to this feeling?  When examined intellectually, does the magnitude of pain you have experienced measure to the magnitude of its origin?  Allow yourself to be fully present with the pain until you feel a small emptiness where the pain was.  Pain will do this.  It will empty you.

Although arduous, there is something very important to remember when journeying through painful remembrances.  If you are open to change, you can feel this particular
pain for the last time.  You can be healed.

Search yourself.  Is there more pain you want to feel for the last time?  Turn over every rock and search it out.  If pain is lying under there, give it as much feeling as it is due.  Be reflective about how this pain has affected you and if you have given it more than its due.  Know that when you are healed, you will reflect on this matter as a fact, devoid of raw emotion.  The reason you are feeling it for the last time is that you are leaving this place, propelled to a new place and a new way of being.

Dutch priest and revered writer on the spiritual life Henri Nouwen offers, “When we become aware that we do not have to escape our pains, but that we can mobilize them into a common search for life, those very pains are transformed from expressions of despair into signs of hope. “  When we are able to recognize our expressions of despair in this broken place as a sign of hope that a healed destination awaits us, we have fuel for the journey.

Join the conversation.  Do you believe a pain long buried can be healed for all time?

Copyright 2011 Stephanie Walker All rights reserved.  Visit www.AcrossTraditions.com.

Visualization Technique for Using Pain as Fuel

Everyone  experiences emotional pain, but it’s the wise ones who know how to harness it and to put it to work to drive positive changes.  We feel pain when we’re caught in particular  conditions at discrete times.  If we can conceive of different conditions, then we can put the pain to work for us.  Visualizing the change we desire, however commonplace, is a big help.

Here is a way to do it.  When you identify the patterns that have dragged you down, away from who you want to be, or away from God, make note of the other choices you might have made.  If you had known more, if you had had more self-control, if you had been free from coercion, if you had only realized… what might you have been able to choose?  Pick the best choice, and ask yourself what character traits are
required to choose them.  Construct a scenario that places you in its center with those characteristics.  That’s your destination.

Here’s an example.  Someone leaving an abusive relationship confronts fear of retribution, shame for having accepted the abuse for a time, guilt for not preventing danger to self and perhaps to children, and, poignantly, grief for the relationship that was desired but never was.  She fears independence because her abuser has told her she can’t make it on her own so many times she believes it.  For that abuse survivor, the destination might look like sitting in the living room of her own apartment where her children are relaxing comfortably regaling each other with funny stories.  They are safe, free to be themselves, and at peace with one another.  When she confronts an obstacle, she can taste the fuel and level her sights with determination on that living room.

It’s wise to maintain some curiosity and flexibility about the destination.  Abraham’s story of setting off on a journey with no clear vision of his destination speaks to recovery seekers, newlyweds, teenagers and anyone else embarking on radical life change.  You don’t know exactly how things will unfold.  It’s ok to be unsure whether you’re focused on the best possible destination.  The important thing is setting out—lech lecha, go fourth Do your best to construct a provisional destination, and revise it as mercy and truth are revealed.

Dallas Willard in Spirit of the Disciplines offers another visualization.  “The old leaf automatically falls from the branch as the new leaf emerges.”  Define the old leaf, the one that needs to fall.  Visualize the new leaf, that which is budding.  It’s hard to “Just say no” to one thing without saying “Yes!” to something better.  When I realize God’s imagination for me is better than mine for myself, I can relinquish my silly notions that I know best.  Whether those notions have led me to complete devastation or to a dull ache of emptiness (“There’s got to be more”), relinquishing them will free my imagination for the destination God would have for me.

Our culture conditions us to remedy pain quickly, so we must resist the impulse to avoid or to medicate it.  If we can think about how badly it hurts here and how much we
want to be there, pain becomes our rocket fuel.  Don’t avoid it and don’t waste one
ounce of it.  Use it all to reach the destination.

Join the conversation.  What visualization techniques have helped you process pain?

Copyright 2011 Stephanie Walker All rights reserved.  Visit www.AcrossTraditions.com.