Pain is like an iceberg. Only the tip is visible, but underneath the surface is a ginormous load. The load one carries when living with pain is often times indescribable; it is beyond words. This is because pain eventually seeps into every pore of your being, and affects every aspect of your life. People who say, “You are not your pain,” obviously don’t live with pain. Those of us who do, know otherwise.
Having lived with pain for every minute of my life since age two, with a few hours reprieve here and there, I can say that pain has shaped who I am, and remains at the forefront of every decision I make. The visible signs, the tip of the iceberg, are what people think of when they see me. My limp makes it obvious that I may not be climbing Everest anytime soon, and the bags under my eyes when the pain prevents me from sleeping help people to understand why I may have to pass on the midnight movie.
What isn’t quite so obvious is the struggle, and the wisdom, that pain brings. Pain dampens the joy I feel when I hike in the woods with my pal, Jasper the dog. This isn’t because I’m a depressed person, or have a bad attitude. Rather, when each step feels like I have a knife jabbing into my ankle, my natural response is to grit my teeth. It’s not fun to be in pain. Pain is tiring, both physically and emotionally. Sometimes I give my pain a nickname, and call it The Enforcer.
But there is another aspect to pain that runs even deeper. Instead if being an enforcer, it is a teacher. It teaches, what author and spiritual teacher Richard Rohr, calls necessary suffering. He says, “ Necessary suffering is whatever it takes to make your small self fall apart, so you can experience your big self.”
I like to think that most of my iceberg of pain, is this – the experience of the big self. The big self is the part of you that develops once pain, challenge, or failure, causes an internal shift. You no longer have the naïve narcissism of youth, and instead you grow into empathy, compassion, humbleness, and self-acceptance.
Even when I feel the ice pick in my ankle I give thanks to my pain for teaching me, and allowing my big self to grow.
I’m glad I am my pain, I’m happy that it is a huge iceberg. Pain and me make a good team.