Love is Pain. And I’m not talking about sadomasochism or a valentine’s break-up.
Nor am I referring to our romanticised ideas of lust and passion.
Generally our culture is at a loss for words when it comes to describing real love.
I’m talking about the kind of love that is honest, accepting and forgiving, no matter how painful and difficult it may be.
When I sat down this morning to do my daily meditation and yoga practice, I felt a familiar pain in my back.
As a young teenager I had a very awkward fall which caused a hard impact on my pelvis bone. And it happened at a time when I, like most other young teenage boys, was growing fast.
This, combined with the fact that the sports we practised did not exactly encourage flexibility, lead to my hips and lower back growing out of alignment.
Looking back, it was a pretty serious injury, with long term repercussions, but it did not receive the necessary attention at the time. Because the damage wasn’t obvious.
I had pain for a short while afterwards, but nothing was broken and when the pain went away I continued as per usual. I was a young kid and didn’t really know any better.
My body was young, very fit and agile and it compensated for the imbalance by protecting the one side and overworking the other side. No pain no problem.
Until I entered adulthood.
At the age of 19 I started experiencing severe lower-back and hip pain. At times I could hardly walk. I felt like a 19-year old with the hips and back of a 90-year old.
At first the pain was mysterious. It would come and go, for no particular reason. And for a few years I had no idea what to do about it, except placate it with pain killers. Some on prescription, others not…
It was around the same time that I started practising Aikido, a relatively modern Japanese Martial Art, which puts great emphasis on using the strength, power and aggression of one’s opponent in neutralising their attack.
This is where I was introduced to the idea of stretching, not just for the sake of loosening and warming up, as in other sports, but for the sake of actually becoming extremely flexible. Because in Aikido, as in many Martial Arts, extreme flexibility is considered a valuable asset.
And this was how I found Yoga.
The purpose of Yoga is difficult to put into words. I am by no means an expert and I think it means something different for every practitioner.
But on a physical level, the most immediate benefit I found in Yoga was relief from my lower-back and hip pain, through the regular repetition of postures and stretches.
This is why I wasn’t particularly worried when I felt that old pain this morning. It was a ghost pain. A soft echo compared to what it had been at its peak. And I knew how to deal with it.
I had felt this pain many times before and I’ve learned to work through the pain. To heal it.
It wasn’t always easy to do Yoga. I sometimes had to force myself to practise. And other times I would lapse. Only to start practising again after the familiar pain returned. This still happens from time to time.
But the more I bounce back from apathy, the closer I move to a constant practice, the more I benefit.
In many ways.
An intense session of Yoga brings a great feeling of satisfaction. After an intense session of Yoga I am content. It brings freedom from the constant search for diversion, distraction and subtle dissatisfaction we all experience in the course of daily life. It brings peace.
And yet, Yoga is pain.
A novice participant on one of our Surf Tours, where we regularly practice Yoga as part of the program, remarked that it must be great to, one day, do all these postures without feeling pain.
In reality I experience as much pain as I did when I first started. Perhaps a little less. But I do more advanced postures with more intensity.
Perhaps a true Yogi reaches a point where pain completely dissipates. But in my case I still feel pain. And I consider it a good thing. Because pain is part of the healing process and I am not yet fully healed.
One cannot heal pain without first feeling that pain.
This is the lesson I have learnt from life and which is illustrated by Yoga.
In life, as in Yoga, we learn to accept pain. To work with the pain. I use the pain as indication of where I need to focus my attention. I breathe trough the pain.
Ultimately I welcome the pain.
Not because I like pain, but because I have experienced the relief that comes from working through it. That relief is indescribable. It’s the ultimate feeling of peace. It’s better than the best high I’ve ever experienced on the best drugs. And I’ve had some experience with that…
Freedom from pain, attaining peace, is to experience the result of love.
And yet, the only way to achieve that freedom is to work through the pain we now have.
Avoiding the pain might bring temporary relief. We may feel temporarily better by taking a pain killer, or some other stimulant or distraction. And in some extreme cases temporary relief may even be necessary.
But ultimately, if it is ignored, suppressed or placated superficially, the pain will return. And when it does it tends to get more intense. Until we work through it. Until we heal it at the source.
Make no mistake. This approach is not a quick-fix. Taking a pain killer, or escaping in some other way, that’s a quick-fix.
Working through the pain takes time. And effort. Which is why we generally don’t do it until the pain becomes intolerable and we can no longer ignore it.
And working through the pain is also not a once-off task.
Working through it, the pain still returns again and again. But the crucial difference, compared with escapement, is that working through the pain takes away its power, bit by bit.
And this is especially true not only of physical pain, like my back pain, but also mental and emotional pain.
Forgiveness, for instance, does not come as a result of ignoring mistakes and injustices. Forgiveness requires that we face that pain straight on. And then accept it and transcend it.
We must go through it. Not under, around or above it.
Love is pain.
To truly love someone is to see their pain and to wish for them to be free of that.
And yet, what brings them freedom from their pain is not your wish that they are free. But their acceptance and their own personal healing. To not sweep it under the proverbial carpet, but to deal with it. Head on.
To truly love someone is allow them to work through that process.
Removing someone from that process takes away their opportunity to find freedom. That is not love.
In the same way, to love yourself is to allow yourself to experience pain, and to use the pain as indication of where and how healing needs to happen.
To avoid the pain is to neglect yourself.
When I felt my lower-back / hip pain this morning I had one of two choices.
I could choose to ignore it. I could take a pain killer or take it easy for a few days. The pain would disappear. Almost immediately, If I took a pain killer. For some time. But it would eventually return with renewed vigour. Until, some years from now, the pain would incapacitate me completely.
I could breathe and do the stretches I know will help me.
I chose to continue my practice. To heal, over the long term, the injuries I sustained all those years ago.
But this approach requires that I continue to experience at least some pain now.
So, whether it’s physical, mental, emotional or whatever else, it’s really a choice between some pain now, with gradually decreasing amounts of pain and the possibility of freedom.
No pain now, with gradually increasing amounts of pain and the likelihood of overpowering pain at some point in life.
If you truly loved someone would you rather see them suffer some pain now, a little less tomorrow, and possibly enjoy peace for the rest of their days?
Or would you see them at peace now, knowing that they will inevitably suffer much more pain later on?
It’s a difficult choice.
But it’s simple.
Love is Pain.