Do we need to experience pain in order to grow? Whether physical or emotional, pain is part of the human experience. All emotions that cause pain, from shame and guilt to anger and anxiety, are teaching experiences that guide our growth. Just like positive emotions, they have the potential to bring us closer to our real selves and to a deeper understanding of the world around us. Pain is one of life’s great teachers, though we may not be willing or able to accept its lessons at the time.
It is not alone however in its ability to promote spiritual enlightenment. To make the most of these lessons, pain should be embraced alongside its more pleasurable opposites. The secret to personal growth is to recognize that enlightenment can be sought along both paths, by accepting pain at the same time as we extend our love and cultivate a deeper self-awareness. Personal growth is sometimes painful – but for good reason, and not always.
Pain as a Natural Teacher
Growth through pain moves through two distinct phases. At first, we are only passive subjects who experience pain and learn from it unconsciously. During our formative years, we are not yet equipped with the understanding to know why grazing a knee is unpleasant or why we feel sad when we are separated from a loved one. We simply know that we do not enjoy it and would prefer to avoid that feeling in the future. We learn how to avoid danger in all its forms and how to change our behavior to elicit more pleasant emotions.
As we develop, we experience pain in increasingly complicated ways. We learn about physical pain through sickness and accidents, showing us how adversity helps to build courage and determination. We learn about emotional pain through conflicts with friends and by encountering distasteful concepts such as bullying and prejudice, teaching us how best to treat those around us. We experience pain from afar, through such events as terrorism, war and political conflict, which reveal how societies as a whole can learn from painful experiences. And we encounter pain close to home, through family illnesses and breakups with our first loves, which teach us about the natural balance of good and bad.
This growth occurs naturally and with very little directed attention. Just as puppies learn to avoid nettle patches by stumbling into one and mother cats will punish kittens when they misbehave, we learn about the world simply by living in it. And as our experiences grow more complicated, so too does our reaction to pain and the potential of its passing.
Pain as the Key to Self-Awareness
Eventually, we can choose to open ourselves to the idea of self-expansion. Through this, we can develop an understanding that pain is an opportunity for learning. We can embrace the message of the Yin and Yang, the ancient spiritual symbol in which small dots of the opposite color are enclosed within each half. This symbolizes that opposites must always exist concurrently; the positive with the negative, the happy with the sad. No matter how painful a situation, that pain cannot exist without a small element of its opposite. This is the gift that pain offers: it shows us that there is always an opportunity to grow and always a constructive deeper meaning to be uncovered.
Many Eastern philosophies teach the merits of learning from pain. To Buddhists, all objects that exist within our universe, whether physical or mental, are considered temporary. Following the Buddhist way of thinking is relatively simple; it means facing pain and accepting that it exists. The second stage is to locate the root of the pain and the emotions that created it. The final and most important stage is to accept that pain occurred and the lesson that it taught us. “Pain is inevitable,” said the Buddha. “Suffering is optional.”
For Hindus, pain is linked to a person’s karma and is the consequence of past actions that were in some way inappropriate. Pain is not a random occurrence and is not intended to be a punishment; it creates balance and pays the debt for a past transgression in this life or a previous one. This valuable philosophy teaches us that pain will always be present on a soul’s path until it has reached a perfect state and is ready to be released from the cycle of rebirth. It brings forth new lessons, tests the soul and can thus be a positive experience if used to progress along this spiritual path.
Growth Outside Pain
Pain is a valuable tool for both natural and directed personal growth, but it is not the only means open to us. An experience of any emotion has the potential to teach us in much the same way, but we also possess the potential to direct and encourage our own learning. We are born with the capacity to evolve and need not rely on the world around us to provide opportunity to do so. In the modern world, it is becoming increasingly common for individuals to seek new and better ways to provoke personal growth.
The key to personal growth is to shift our thinking to one where all emotional experiences, painful or otherwise, are considered to be of value. We must acknowledge our own higher thoughts and consciousness, paying continuous attention to them in order to cultivate a deep awareness of our minds and souls. As this awareness grows stronger, we can cultivate our emotions and open ourselves to love and compassion, understanding that rejection and heartbreak should be embraced when it arises but is not the inevitable consequence of living a heart-centered life. The more we expand our hearts and minds to accept every experience, and the more we search deep inside ourselves to discover the meaning of each experience, the further we can grow and the faster we can meet our full spiritual potential.
Milan Ljubincic is a psychologist, spiritual teacher and visionary. His work has world-wide resonance — dedicated to inspiring humanity to live a heart-centered life, healing those who desire wholeness, and guiding others on their path of enlightenment, spiritual awareness and conscious awakening. You can learn more about his work by visiting www.Ljubincic.com
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