Sunday, January 05, 2020

Pain Reminds Us We’re Still Human

In Western society today, the quest to empower ourselves is endless. Self-help books abound, and we eagerly line up to sit at the feet of any self-styled guru who promises us more of whatever we’re seeking. We want less pain and more pleasure. We want people to stop reminding us of our faults and start building us up. We want to revel in our extraordinary qualities and leave behind our imperfections and vulnerabilities.

To be sure, a healthy dose of self-esteem is a good thing. But we forget that in life, everything is our teacher, and our pain exists to remind us that we are still human. We will never be extraordinary, and that’s okay.

Human beings are already perfect - in their messiness, their meanness, their intolerance and their weakness. We have a desire to lift ourselves above these qualities, as if they are somehow less desirable than our more altruistic attributes. But without our messiness, we would not be authentic humans, we would be supermen and women, which we definitely are not.

We are beautiful, difficult, strong, unreliable, smart, capable, irritating messes. And that’s the way it’s supposed to be. If you expect something higher or nobler from yourself or the people you come in contact with, you are creating your own frustration and pain by holding unreasonable expectations about what being human is supposed to be like. 

The next time you experience pain - physical or emotional - how about taking a deep breath and embracing it rather than running from it? Sit with it a while. I know it feels like a morass you’ll never get out of. You are afraid to stay there too long for fear you can’t get out. But you can, any time you want. Knowing that should help you feel comfortable staying there a little longer. Be a full participant in you life. Don’t eschew parts of it you think aren’t worthy or are too messy. 

Our pain reminds us that we are no different from anyone else, no matter how much we want to be better. There are no good people and bad people. Just humans struggling with our messiness. No villains and victims. We all have the same longings and the same trouble fulfilling them. Almost all of us want companionship along the way. And we want others to honor our choices even if they disagree.

We’re all just figuring this out as we go, so how about some compassion, for ourselves and those we come in contact with. They don’t show any to me, you say. No, and you shouldn’t expect them to. They’re still figuring out how to do that. But the best hope they have of learning is to see you doing it, day by day. 

It’s a paradox that, as we seek to accomplish the elimination of suffering, we learn that we can’t be human without it. We learn that it has a place in our lives. And when we learn that, our suffering becomes less somehow. We learn to embrace everything and be afraid of nothing. 

No one can escape their messiness. But we can love ourselves and others anyway.

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