Forever. Forever is this very moment. When you are in pain- emotional, spiritual or physical- it can be nearly impossible to experience life beyond that pain. It feels as though it has existed forever before and will continue to persist forever into the future. We cannot conjure up in our minds what life was like before this pain. We simply cannot see past it. Ever get a rotten cold with a non-stop runny nose? You may think to yourself that you will not take your health for granted once you are well again. It seems as though the runny nose will never end. One day it does and we usually don’t even realize. You heal, life continues and your focus, now unhinged from the runny nose, can focus on other things. Reminding yourself that nothing lasts forever and that this pain will lessen or disappear soon doesn’t help much when you are in the deep, endless trenches of pain.
Spiritual and emotional pain are constants in my life. They may be constants in everyone’s lives in some form or another but we ignore it, hide it, pretend it’s not there and definitely do not discuss it. I’ve been spared serious physical pain up to this point in life, until last month.
My bottom wisdom teeth were making their annual appearance, pushing through the gums and causing mild pain. Usually I tolerate this and after a week, the pain dissipates and the teeth have secured a little more real estate in my gum line. This dull and annoying pain escalated to excruciating pain in a matter of 2 days. The pressure was immense, the pain was constant and I was tempted to grab some pliers to rid myself of these once benign monsters. I now understand why babies cry so much when they are teething…Thankfully, I was able to schedule surgery quickly and under local anesthesia, had the bottom teeth removed a few days later. I had never had surgery or teeth removed before so the recovery is another story. The pain of surgery, to relieve the pain and pressure of the wisdom teeth, was welcomed with open arms.
During that week, while awaiting surgery, I continued to go to work but warned my colleagues that it’d be best to limit their contact with me as I was in tremendous pain and my patience was nonexistent. Counting down the minutes until surgery and trying to distract myself from the pain (unsuccessfully) was all the patience I could muster; none leftover to deal with anything else. It was that week that I got to thinking about how I could care less about anyone else around me. The only thing I could see or feel was my own pain. Pain exists as an alert system of our bodies to notify us, Hey…..look here, feel here, pay attention here….It is not our default setting and it requires attention to understand the underlying cause and how to address the cause, not just the symptoms, and resolve the pain; not numb or deny it. If we numb or deny, you better believe that unresolved emotional, spiritual, and/or physical pain is going to manifest itself again, probably at a very inconvenient time and louder than ever.
Until we experience pain ourselves, practicing compassion and empathy for the hurtful actions of other people who are behaving destructively due to their narrow perspective, narrowed further by their demanding pain, might be the most difficult life lesson of all. Heck, even if you haven’t endured anything painful, this is still a difficult life lesson. How do we cultivate empathy for others when we ourselves are experiencing our own pain? How do we expand our perspective to include those around us when pain is demanding so much of our own energy and attention? How do we accept other peoples actions, driven by their pain, yet set boundaries for what we will and will not accept?
How many licks does it take to get to the Tootsie Roll center of a Tootsie Pop? The world may never know. Maybe we will never know the answers to the questions posed here….but I’d love to hear your thoughts, comment below!