“As long as you make an identity for yourself out of pain, you cannot be free of it.”
“The water hollows out the stone, not by force but drop by drop.”
Yes, I know it hurts. Whether you feel sad, scared, lonely, or regretful, it weighs heavy like a ton of bricks, dragging you down. And it keeps you from realizing the brilliance that you are.
What do you do to escape from emotional pain? Do you drink or eat to excess, keep yourself ridiculously busy, sit around hoping for a better future? It’s human nature to do everything you can to avoid turning around and meeting the feelings that arise in you. Who wants to feel pain?
But here’s the problem. These temporary measures simply don’t work. Addictions, compulsions, incessant mental spinning. They may dull the pain for a short time, but still it remains, barely below the surface, waiting for you to take a break from all your efforts to avoid it so it can tap you on the shoulder once again. “Remember me?” it says.
So must you resign yourself to a lifetime of pain? No, because pain, even though it seems so real, is a thin veil that covers the truth of who you are.
Your true nature is peace itself, and what you perceive as pain distracts you from experiencing the endless well of contentment that is eternally available. No matter what stories you hang on to, peace is possible for you because it is already who you are.
What it takes to realize this is the option you have been avoiding your whole life – turning to meet the pain. Not to wallow in it. Not to feed the drama. But to face what you have been running from – the experience of emotional pain that seems to have taken up residence inside of you.
Here is where you will discover the treasure at the heart of pain.
The Source of Pain
Most difficult emotions have their roots in events that happened long ago. You experienced a strong emotional reaction to a challenging situation or relationship, and you didn’t have the skills or support to feel it and let it move through you. Instead, it got stuck, lodged in your mind and body, creating layers of contraction and armoring as the years go by.
Fast forward to now, and here you are, desperately wanting relief so you can be at peace. This is your invitation: to discover the treasure at the heart of pain.
Three Blessed Steps
Honor this process that returns you to yourself – your sane and shining self that is not veiled by the past.
First Step: Recognition
First, pause from all the turmoil and recognize that an emotional reaction consists of two experiences: a story line that goes through your mind and physical holding in your body. Whenever you are caught in an emotion, be curious about your experience, and this is what you will discover.
It’s always the same: thoughts and physical sensations, a repetitive story and physical contractions, consumed in your mind and felt in your body.
Second Step: Turning Away
Now, put the story aside. You don’t have to get rid of it, you only need to see the futility of continuing to think it over and over. I mean, haven’t you gone over the same thoughts millions of times? Have they brought you relief yet? In fact, this is why you feel stuck.
You will never find peace by repeating the story in your mind. Never. And once you feel your way into this truth, you start turning away from thoughts every time they appear. It doesn’t matter how often they arise or how much they try to seduce you into thinking they are true or important. Your job is this: to stop feeding useless stories with your attention, every time.
Once I really got this point, everything started to shift.
Do you want to be happy? Stop acting as if your stories are true. Don’t feed them, and here you are, so fresh and alive!
Third Step: Turning Toward
If you aren’t going to think about what happened, where does your attention go? This part may be tricky, but hang in there with me.
In every moment, you are aware. If you are breathing, you are aware that you are breathing. If you are crying, you are aware that you are crying. You can’t possibly have any experience without also being aware of it. You have been aware of everything that has ever happened to you – that is the constant. How could it be otherwise?
If you bring your attention not to things that you are aware of, like thoughts and feelings, but to the awareness itself, you will make some interesting discoveries.
Memories, ideas, feelings, sounds, sensations, sights – all of these appear and, at the same time, you are aware.
Awareness is still and spacious. Things just are, no matter what arises in it. It can’t be disturbed.
Being aware is infinitely patient and utterly accepting.
Putting It All Together
We already have seen that an emotional reaction consists of a story and physical sensations and that feeding stories will quickly take you down the road to suffering. But what about physical sensations?
Undigested emotions from the past get stuck in the body and appear as physical contraction and holding. We tense up on so many levels to protect ourselves from the world. And this is what needs to be liberated.
Grounding yourself as awareness and turning away from thoughts, notice the sensations in your body, and let them be. Let them surface from the recesses of your cells to be seen in the light of awareness. Simply be aware, with great kindness, but don’t do anything.
As you feel the sensations, give them time to come out of hiding, and you will eventually notice they aren’t solid. As you welcome them, they begin to not even feel real. Every time you find a sliver of space in a contraction or a tiny hole in the armor, this is awareness shining through.
Over time, simply be aware. Let sensations be, and they will barely cause a ripple.
How to discover the treasure at the heart of painful emotions? Turn away from the story line, then turn toward yourself – aware, alive, awake, and present. Let the physical contractions release into this space and be the space.
No story…being aware…contractions dissolving…where is the pain?
This article is reprinted here with permission from the author. Gail Brenner, Ph.D. is a psychologist and blogger. Her blog, A Flourishing Life, where this piece originally appeared, offers practical wisdom for discovering the happiness, peace, and joy available in this very moment.
"Stop acting as if your stories are true" ? What exactly does that mean? This article lost me there. If your story wasn't true, would you be feeling the pain??
Anything that opens with a quote from the shallow work of Eckhart Tolle - and then moves into pop psychology - just isn't worth the time. Doc Arnett said more in one sentence than Gail Brenner, PhD said in an entire essay.
2 replies: Geralynmott, Iegocentric | Post Your Reply
For me, the most powerful truth in finding the peace of release from such things is in the deliberate decision to forgive others, whether they actually had any part in my pain or not.
2 replies: Peggy, Sfannie | Post Your Reply
Thank you! I needed to read this today too.
25 replies: Lynae, Erika, Ken, Ebbysmom, Lisa, Shyla, Lisa, Squirrel, Melody, Termoli, Kat, Ricky, Richard, Just, Pasturemuffins, White, Alison, Alicia, Anders, Herbert, Jon, Debbie, Mala, Stan, Disqus_dmhz3ekxd3 | Post Your Reply
How did you know I needed to read this today? :-) Thank you.
On Sep 7, 2013 Avinash Anand Singh wrote:
Awesome and so aptly put Gail. Grateful to you for the same.
Wally - People forget that truth is one and only one. But "truth" at the same time has different levels, it is dynamic. This may seem to be a paradox. But this is how it is. Different minds require different level of truth, so if you are not able to understand one level, don't discard it simply, because that will only feed the well of ignorance and the life purpose of emptying it will be defeated.
Miracles with light, love & power
Avinash Anand Singh
1 reply: Lisa | Post Your Reply