If little labour, little are our gains:
Man’s fate is according to his pains.
Robert Herrick, Hesperides (1650)
In 1982 when Jane Fonda touted the words, “No pain, no gain,” she was referencing a physical exercise motto intended to build what was then considered to be the beautiful body. Nonetheless, athletes, artists and professionals alike adopted this “work hard” ethos as a means to achieve performance excellence. So much so that in 2005, David Morris, author of Belief and Narrative, wrote “’No pain, no gain’ is an American modern mini-narrative: it compresses the story of a protagonist who understands that the road to achievement runs only through hardship.”
This mini-narrative aptly defines the human transformational journey (the hero’s journey) from darkness into enlightenment, and spiritualists across the ages agree that without pain there is no spiritual gain.
Your pain is the breaking of the shell that encloses
Even as the stone of the fruit must break, that its
heart may stand in the sun, so must you know pain.
And could you keep your heart in wonder at the
daily miracles of your life, your pain would not seem
less wondrous than your joy;
And you would accept the seasons of your heart,
even as you have always accepted the seasons that
pass over your fields.
And you would watch with serenity through the
winters of your grief.
Much of your pain is self-chosen.
It is the bitter potion by which the physician within
you heals your sick self.
Therefore trust the physician, and drink his remedy
in silence and tranquility:
For his hand, though heavy and hard, is guided by
the tender hand of the Unseen,
And the cup he brings, though it burn your lips, has
been fashioned of the clay which the Potter has
moistened with His own sacred tears.
Clearly our personal and cultural beliefs about pain dictate our reactions, our choices, to life’s emerging experiences. Stir into this mix such strong emotions as fear and anger, and we have the creation of another global mini-narrative, “pain avoidance and pleasure seeking.”
As Gibran states above, we choose much of our pain. If our choices keep us negatively rooted in these mini-narratives, we continually repeat a pattern of pain. For example, when individuals and organizations consult with me on performance, typically the “presenting problems” arise from the choices they make — either an inability and/or unwillingness to face their pain or a desire for immediate gratification. In my coaching practice, many individuals approach me who chose to stay on numbing anti-depressants for years rather than face their fears through transformational methods such as coaching, yoga, meditation and psychotherapy. In my design and development work with organizations, choices show up as command and control hierarchies that inhibit human growth and creativity, as well as economic performance.
Typically, when fear and anger govern my choices rather than hope and love, I create unnecessary pain for myself and within my relationships. Fear and anger take me down the path of judgment and blame, which means I project what I resent and even dislike about myself onto those around me. Let me say it another way — I/we resent and hate in others the unresolved parts of ourselves. However, I reframe this negative perspective by reminding myself that the people and experiences touching my life are my teachers. Each presents an opportunity for me to become aware of and face my pain so I can lighten my load, enlighten myself, be a happier, healthier, kinder person than I was yesterday.
When I allow judgment to cloud my perspective, I pile on more pain by adding more drama to my life. When I accept whatever is crossing my path and face whatever fear arises without letting it own me, I reduce my pain.
Pain alerts AWARENESS.
Awareness triggers ACCEPTANCE.
Acceptance reveals WISDOM.
How would you answer the question I posed in the title of this blog — Is pain a relationship deal breaker for you?
It is only when we forget all our learning that we begin to know.
Henry David Thoreau