Thursday, January 26, 2012

The Way We Are

I spoke with a friend of mine the other day about some of the situations in his life. I know that he reads this blog from time to time so if he happens to come across this post, just know that this is directly inspired because of you. I promise I will share nothing about your life but I will share some of the thoughts that came to my mind that night that we talked and since then.

My friend is strong in spirit and body. He's not a wimp though I have no doubt there have been times in his life and will be more times in the future when all he wants to do is lie down and give up. But his life is a testament to the strength he possesses in that he has not given up.

I know that I cannot begin to imagine the true depth of suffering and pain as I live in a society that alleviates much of the possible pain I could be feeling. But it is still curious that pain is not entirely gone. Pain is, after all, a natural part of reality. It is something that we experience in our day to day lives. And one day pain may be the vehicle that takes us beyond this world. However, I'm not sure pain is meant to be something we seek to escape from. I know that Eastern philosophies have reflected on such quandaries as pain and suffering and I confess to a woeful depth of ignorance on their centuries of theories and developments of beliefs. But I cannot help but wonder if the idea of escaping pain that is professed as an important tenant of Buddhism is a wise idea.

Consider for a moment the wide variety of cultures and civilizations that have occupied much of Earth's continents. Civilizations from the Greeks and Aztecs to the Chinese and Japanese to the British and Italians to the Egyptians and Russians. Each of these societies has, in some form or another, sought to alleviate pain. In Mormonism, such ideas take the form of "sin." I still remember reading certain teachings espoused in the missionary manual "Preach My Gospel" that emphasized the universal nature of "sin." While Mormonism (and Christianity) defined sin as estrangement from God that comes about by breaking His commandments, I cannot help but wonder if we were to alter the concept to actual mean yet another manifestation of the human concern for and about pain that we would find a similar story of pain that has been told in all other societies. The bravado of masculinity celebrated in Roman culture and their myths was perhaps a way to hide the fear of vulnerability. The mythical journeys to the world of the dead and in search of immortality all speak of a fear of the fragility of life as well as pain.

When you see a friend struggling and suffering from heartache or the loss of a loved one or seeing the day when dreams are brought shattering to the floor, don't you want to bring relief to them? Don't you want to soothe their pain? I know that I do. I know that I want to sit down beside them and listen to what ails and inflicts them. If they ask for advice, I'd do my best to consider something that may be of benefit to them. But I'm not sure that there is much more that I could say that life could not teach better through experience. I'm not always sure that offering ways to escape pain or confront it are necessary or good. Pain is a part of life. It's a part of us. It is the flip side to joy. In fact, it makes joy joy. After all, what is joy? Joy is that serene sense of peace and happiness combined with love. Without pain, though, I think joy becomes shallow and stripped of meaning. Pain defines joy just as much as joy defines pain. They are linked. Love, hate, and sorrow are all linked too. I think the case could be made that all emotions are linked. That they define, enhance, and enrich each other. If you try to run away from one emotion, you risk the chance of cheapening and weakening those other emotions that we feel.

We are emotional creatures in my opinion. Pain is an important part of that. It is the aspect that gives us an understanding that we are, in fact, alive. Why? Because it hurts so damn much! Logic and reason assist us to make sense of the world. But emotion powers our mental faculties and helps us truly live in this life.

So, I want to share a sentiment that I have taken with me in life after leaving my childhood faith. It comes from the Book of Mormon and is part of the covenant that people undertook in a story. "Yea, and are willing to mourn with those that mourn; yea, and comfort those that stand in need of comfort..." I share this thought because of a concept in there that nicely summarizes how I think we should engage in pain that others may be feeling. We should not seek to stem the flow of pain another feels. Staunching such a thing, however nice, does no good in the end and merely delays the healing process that our minds have developed. Rather we should simply express empathy with them. When I bow my head in sorrow, when tears flow from my eyes, when my throat is choking back sobs, I don't want to be told to avoid pain. I want the person that has come to my aide to pull me close and to cry with me until I can no longer cry. I want them to listen to my sad whimpers and my gasping, choking voice full of pain and loss. 

Only then will we heal. Only then will we feel a sense of humanity and connection. But, more importantly, only then will we find that we as individuals, as carriers of pain, can at last move on with our lives and witness the beauty that waits for us. 


  1. I appreciate your appreciation for MoTab, even after leaving the church. :D

  2. I agree that there are lessons to be learned from pain. Experiencing the full range of human emotions is something that makes us more complex and more dynamic ourselves.

    In some ways the idea that Christ descended below all, and felt all pain is significant. It does put his character in a position to truly "understand" all.

    As with this Christ character our own pain is something that enables us to understand and help others. It enables us to form bonds in our common sorrows that are sometimes stronger I think than the people that we feel joy with.

    I do have to say though that I sometimes think that pain is a dangerous emotion. If left unchecked, unsoothed, or festering for too long it is a cycle that is hard to get out of. We just can't dwell there for very long. It becomes more a thing we have to do for ourselves though and its not something that others can really alieviate for us. We have to choose to learn the lessons that pain can teach us and then we have to be strong enough to ask for help up or we have to pull ourselves up.

    Very beautiful and insightful post my friend!!! (((HUGS)))