Perceptions of Pain


A theme has unveiled during my time here in India. It has come up, again and again. Enduring pain, or better yet, the perception of pain. Now, I do not mean pain in the sense of stubbing your toe or closing your hand in a car door. I mean pain in the form of mental suffrage. Feeling trapped by thoughts in the mind.


This is something I am definitely guilty of…and there is no judgement towards it. Just a general acknowledgement that this is how I grew up in society. This is an ingrained habit pattern I am trying to break.


 Every Friday in India, we practice Trataka, candle gazing. We sit in stillness, starring at the flame of a candle until a tear rolls down our face. It is a Yoga Kriya, a cleansing exercise. The purpose of this action is to facilitate mental strength. Learning to embrace the discomforting moment and work towards diminishing fluctuations in the mind. This Kriya is based off the idea that we create our own mental torture. I have found that the more effort I put towards calming the mind and perceiving the “pain” in a positive way, the easier the exercise becomes. This lesson translates to many moments in our everyday lives.


Our bodies are conditioned to avoid pain. Embracing discomfort never feels good. It is much easier to duck and dodge than truly feel.  We become masters, finding tactics to avoid that stinging tinge of discomfort. Today, many of us are used to instant gratification. Feeding a discomfort the moment it comes up. Stressed? Have glass of wine. Headache? Take a pain killer. Tired? Get a double espresso. We find Band-Aids every time we have a boo boo. We never truly feel, just cover up. Sadly this is why many of us fall into self-destructing actions like abusing drugs and alcohol. Or becoming depressed and anxious. These are ways we numb ourselves. Ways we avoid pain. But….what if pain was not always a bad thing? What if we could learn to embrace those challenging times and change our perceptions of them?


For example, have you ever been in a work meeting that has gone on for far too long? The mind begins to torture you, begging the arms of the clock to magically move faster. Or have you ever woke up in the morning entirely dreading the schedule for your upcoming day? You sit in the car or train thinking about how many unbearable days are left until the weekend. These are examples of the mental pain WE create. We are inducing mental discomfort by resisting a challenging situation and focusing on the negative. This “pain” and “suffering” is our own perception. As one of my teachers here in India says, “We are our own best friend, and our own worst enemy.” We are the creators of our reality. No one else, no external factor is responsible for our happiness. We are the ones responsible.


What if we can recognize this? Recognize that pain is our own perception, that it may not always be a bad thing. If we can embrace the challenging times for what they are, if we can rip off the Band-Aids instead of continuing to pile them up, maybe we can find more peace. More contentment in the mind.


So on those tough days in a work meeting or in the car or train, can we change the perception of our situation? Maybe beginning to focus on the positive, all that we have to be grateful for. Gratitude is a wonderful practice for finding peace in a suffering mind. Here is my challenge for you (and me!) The next time we find ourselves in a discomforting situation, instead of focusing on the “pain” in a negative light, can we think of all the things we are grateful for in that moment? It can be as simple as being grateful to be alive, grateful for the last breath we took, grateful for eyesight, or two working legs. Another great exercise is a gratitude journal. Taking time every day to write down what we are grateful for. You will be surprised, when you start focusing on what you are grateful for, “pain” eases and your perception of the world will change. With gratitude, our eyes open to much more beauty in the world.


I once read a quote that stated, “If you stop every time it hurts, you will never really start.” Well, you are the only one who can make it hurt. Today, fill up your cup, knowing that you are the one who can make it start.