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Pain, the Price of Freedom

One of the essential requirements for true spiritual growth and deep personal transformation is coming to peace with pain.

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One of the essential requirements for true spiritual growth and deep personal transformation is coming to peace with pain.

No expansion or evolution can take place without change, and periods of change are not always comfortable. Change involves challenging what is familiar to us and daring to question our traditional needs for safety, comfort, and control. This is often perceived as a painful experience.

Becoming familiar with this pain is part of your growth. Even though you may not actually like the feelings of inner disturbance, you must be able to sit quietly inside and face them if you want to see where they come from. Once you can face your disturbances, you will realize that there is a layer of pain seated deep in the core of your heart. This pain is so uncomfortable, so challenging, and so destructive to the individual self, that your entire life is spent avoiding it. Your entire personality is built upon ways of being, thinking, acting, and believing that were developed to avoid this pain.

Since avoiding the pain prohibits you from exploring the part of your being that is beyond that layer, real growth takes place when you finally decide to deal with the pain. Because the pain is at the core of the heart, it radiates out and affects everything you do. But this pain is not the physical pain that you receive as messages from your body. Physical pain is only there when something is physiological wrong. Inner pain is always there, underneath, hidden by the layers of our thoughts and emotions. We feel it most when our hearts go into turmoil, like when the world does not meet our expectations. This is an inner, psychological pain.

The psyche is built upon avoiding this pain, and as a result, it has fear of pain as its foundation. That is what caused the psyche to be. To understand this, notice that if the feeling of rejection is a major problem for you, you will fear experiences that cause rejection. That fear will become part of your psyche. Even though the actual events causing rejection are infre-quent, you will have to deal with the fear of rejection all the time. That is how we create a pain that is always there. If you are doing something to avoid pain, then pain is running your life. All of your thoughts and feelings will be affected by your fears.

You will come to see that any behavior pattern based upon the avoidance of pain becomes a doorway to the pain itself. If you are afraid of being rejected by someone and you approach that person with the intention of winning their acceptance, you are skating on thin ice. All they have to do is look at you sideways or say the wrong thing, and you will feel the pain of rejection. The bottom line is that since you approached them in the name of rejection, you’re going to be dancing on the edge of rejection throughout the interaction. One way or another, the feelings you experience will work their way back to the motive behind your actions.

The avoidance of pain is what your actions are linked to, and you will feel that link in your heart.

The heart is where pain comes from. And this is why you feel so many disturbances as you go through the day. You have this core of pain deep in your heart. Your personality traits and behavior patterns are all about avoiding this pain. You avoid it by keeping your weight a certain way, wearing certain clothes, talking a certain way, and choosing a certain hairstyle. Everything you do is about the avoidance of this pain. If you want to validate this, just see what happens if someone mentions your weight or criticizes your clothes: you feel pain. Every time you do something in the name of avoiding pain, that something becomes a link that holds the potential for the pain you’re avoiding.

If you do not want to deal with the pain at its core, then what you do to avoid it had better work. If you are hiding yourself in a busy social life, then anything anyone does that challenges your self-esteem, such as not inviting you to an event, will cause you to feel the pain. Let’s say you call a friend to go see a movie, and they say they’re busy. Some people feel hurt by that. You will feel pain if the reason you called them was the avoidance of pain. Let’s say you go outside and you call your dog, “Hey, Spot, come here!” and he doesn’t come. If the reason you called Spot was to feed him, you’d just put the bowl down and let him eat when he wants. But if you called Spot because you had a hard day, and Spot didn’t come, you would feel pain. “Even the dog doesn’t like me.” Why would there be heartfelt pain in the dog not coming? Why would there be pain in a friend saying they are going someplace else and they can’t go to the movie today? How does that generate pain? It is because deep inside there is pain that you have not processed. Your attempt to avoid this pain has created layer upon layer of sensitivities that are all linked to the hidden pain.

Let’s take a moment to see how these layers build up. In order to avoid the pain of rejection, you work hard to maintain friendships. Since you’ve seen that it is possible to get rejected, even by friends, you are going to work harder and harder to avoid it. To succeed, you have to be sure everything you do is acceptable to others. This determines how you dress and how you act. Notice, you’re no longer focused directly on rejection.

Now it’s about your clothes, how you walk, or what you drive. You’ve gone another layer further away from the core pain. If somebody comes up to you and says, “Wow, I thought you could afford a nicer car than that!” you feel a disturbing reaction. How could that cause pain? What’s the big deal if somebody says something about your car? You have to ask yourself what it is that reacted in your heart. What is that feeling? Why is that happening? People don’t normally ask why; they just try to keep it from happening.

You must go deeper than that and look at the dynamics of the layers that have been created. At the core there is the pain. Then, in order to avoid the pain, you try to stay busy with friends and hide in their acceptance. That is the first layer out. Then, in order to assure your acceptance, you try to present yourself a certain way so that you can win friends and influence people. That is another layer out. Each layer is attached to the original pain. This is why simple, everyday interactions can affect you so much. If the core pain was not the motivation behind proving yourself each day, what people say would not affect you. But since avoiding the core pain is why you’re trying to prove yourself, you end up bringing the potential for pain into everything that happens. You end up so sensitive that you are unable to live in this world without getting hurt. You cannot even interact with people or do other normal daily activities without events affecting your heart. If you watch carefully, you will see that even simple interactions often cause some degree of pain, insecurity, or general disturbance.

To get some distance from this, you first need to get some perspec-tive. Walk outside on a clear night and just look up into the sky. You are sitting on a planet spinning around in the middle of absolutely nowhere.

Though you can only see a few thousand stars, there are hundreds of billions of stars in our Milky Way Galaxy alone. In fact, it is estimated that there are over a trillion stars in the Spiral Galaxy. And that galaxy would look like one star to us, if we could even see it. You’re just standing on one little ball of dirt and spinning around one of the stars. From that perspective, do you really care what people think about your clothes or your car?

Do you really need to feel embarrassed if you forget someone’s name?

How can you let these meaningless things cause pain? If you want out, if you want a decent life, you had better not devote your life to avoiding psychological pain. You had better not spend your life worrying about whether people like you or whether your car impresses people. What kind of life is that? It is a life of pain. You may not think that you feel pain that often, but you really do. To spend your life avoiding pain means it’s always right behind you. At any point you could slip and say the wrong thing. At any point anything can happen. So you end up devoting your life to the avoidance of pain.

Once you look inside yourself and start to own this, you will see that you are back to the same two foundational choices. One choice is to leave the pain inside and continue to struggle with the outside. The other choice is to decide that you don’t want to spend your entire life avoiding the inner pain; you’d rather get rid of it. Few people ever dare to turn the process inside like this. Most people don’t even realize that they are running around with pockets of pain inside that need to be worked out.

Do you really want to carry that inside and have to manipulate the world to avoid feeling it? What would your life be like if it wasn’t run by that pain? You would be free. You could walk around this world completely free, just having fun, just being comfortable with whatever happens. You can actually live a life full of interesting experiences and just enjoy these experiences whatever they are. In essence, you can simply live your life and experience what it’s like to be on a planet that is spinning around in the middle of nowhere, until you die.

To live at this level of freedom, you must learn not to be afraid of inner pain and disturbance. As long as you are afraid of the pain, you will try to protect yourself from it. The fear will make you do that. If you want to be free, simply view inner pain as a temporary shift in your energy flow. There is no reason to fear this experience. You must not be afraid of rejection, or of how you would feel if you got sick, or if someone died, or if something else went wrong. You cannot spend your life avoiding things that are not actually happening, or everything will become negative. All you will end up seeing is how much can potentially go wrong. Do you have any idea how many things can cause inner pain and disturbance?

Probably more than there are stars in the sky. If you want to grow and be free to explore life, you cannot spend your life avoiding the myriad things that might hurt your heart or mind.

You must look inside yourself and determine that from now on pain is not a problem. It is just a thing in the universe. Somebody can say something to you that can cause your heart to react and catch fire, but then it passes. It’s a temporary experience. Most people can hardly imagine what it would be like to be at peace with inner disturbance. But if you do not learn to be comfortable with it, you will devote your life to avoiding it. If you feel insecurity, it’s just a feeling. You can handle a feeling. If you feel embarrassed, it’s just a feeling. It’s just a part of creation. If you feel jealousy and your heart burns, just look at it objectively, like you would a mild bruise. It’s a thing in the universe that is passing through your system.

Laugh at it, have fun with it, but don’t be afraid of it. It cannot touch you unless you touch it.

Let’s explore this by first looking at a basic human tendency. When something painful touches your body, you tend to pull away instinctively. You even do this with unpleasant smells and tastes. The fact is, your psyche does the same thing. If something disturbing touches it, its tendency is to withdraw, to pull back, and to protect itself. It does this with insecurity, jealousy, and any of the other vibrations we’ve been discussing. In essence you “close,” which is simply an attempt to put a shield around your inner energy. You can feel the effects of this as the sensation of contracting within your heart. Somebody says something displeasing, and you feel some disturbance in your heart. Then your mind starts talking: “I don’t have to put up with this. I’ll just walk away and never talk to them again. They’ll be sorry.” Your heart is attempting to pull back from what it’s experiencing and protect itself so that it doesn’t have to experience that feeling again. You do this because you can’t handle the pain you’re feeling. As long as you can’t handle the pain, you will react by closing in order to protect yourself. Once you close, your mind will build an entire psychological structure around your closed energy. Your thoughts will try to rationalize why you’re right, why the other person’s wrong, and what you should do about it.

If you buy into this, it will become a part of you. For years the pain will remain inside and actually become one of the building blocks of your entire life. It will shape your future reactions, thoughts, and preferences.

When you deal with a situation by resisting the pain it causes, you will have to adjust your behavior and thoughts in order to protect yourself.

You will have to do this so that nothing aggravates what you have held inside about the incident. You will end up building an entire protection structure around the closure. If you have the clarity to watch this happen, and understand the long-term consequences, you will want to be free of this trap. You will never be free, however, until you get to the point where you are willing to release the initial pain instead of avoiding it. You must learn to transcend the tendency to avoid the pain.

Wise beings do not want to remain a slave to the fear of pain. They permit the world to be what it is instead of being afraid of it. They wholeheartedly participate in life, but not for the purpose of using life to avoid themselves. If life does something that causes a disturbance inside of you, instead of pulling away, let it pass through you like the wind. After all, things happen every day that cause inner disturbance. At any moment you can feel frustration, anger, fear, jealousy, insecurity, or embarrassment. If you watch, you will see that the heart is trying to push it all away, If you want to be free, you have to learn to stop fighting these human feelings.

When you feel pain, simply view it as energy. Just start seeing these inner experiences as energy passing through your heart and before the eye of your consciousness. Then relax. Do the opposite of contracting and closing. Relax and release. Relax your heart until you are actually face-to-face with the exact place where it hurts. Stay open and receptive so you can be present right where the tension is. You must be willing to be present right at the place of the tightness and pain, and then relax and go even deeper. This is very deep growth and transformation. But you will not want to do this. You will feel tremendous resistance to doing this, and that’s what makes it so powerful. As you relax and feel the resistance, the heart will want to pull away, to close, to protect, and to defend itself. Keep relaxing. Relax your shoulders and relax your heart. Let go and give room for the pain to pass through you. It’s just energy. Just see it as energy and let it go.

If you close around the pain and stop it from passing through, it will stay in you. That is why our natural tendency to resist is so counterpro-ductive. If you don’t want the pain, why do you close around it and keep it? Do you actually think that if you resist, it will go away? It’s not true.

If you release and let the energy pass through, then it will go away. If you relax when the pain comes up inside your heart, and actually dare to face it, it will pass. Every single time you relax and release, a piece of the pain leaves forever. Yet every time you resist and close, you are building up the pain inside. It’s like damming up a stream. You are then forced to use the psyche to create a layer of distance between you who experiences the pain and the pain itself. That is what all the noise is inside your mind: an attempt to avoid the stored pain.

If you want to be free, you must first accept that there is pain in your heart. You have stored it there. And you’ve done everything you can think of to keep it there, deep inside, so that you never have to feel it. There is also tremendous joy, beauty, love, and peace within you. But they are on the other side of the pain. On the other side of the pain is ecstasy. On the other side is freedom. Your true greatness hides on the other side of that layer of pain. You must be willing to accept pain in order to pass through to the other side. Just accept that it is in there and that you are going to feel it. Accept that if you relax, it will have its moment before your aware-ness, and then it will pass. It always does.

Sometimes you will notice that it feels hot inside as pain passes. In fact, as you relax into the energy of the pain, you may feel tremendous heat in your heart.

That is the pain being purified from your heart. Learn to enjoy that burning. It is called the fire of yoga. It does not seem enjoyable, but you will learn to enjoy it because it is freeing you. In truth, pain is the price of freedom. And the moment you are willing to pay that price, you will no longer be afraid. The moment you are not afraid of the pain, you’ll be able to face all of life’s situations without fear.

Sometimes you will go through deep experiences that bring up intense pain inside of you. If it is in there, it is going to come up. If you have any wisdom, you will leave it alone and not try to change your life to avoid it. You will just relax and give it the space it needs to release and burn through you. You do not want this stuff inside your heart. To feel great love and freedom, to find the presence of God within you, all of this stored pain must go. It is in this inner work that spirituality becomes a reality. Spiritual growth exists in that moment when you are consciously willing to pay the price of freedom. You must be willing at all times, in all circumstances, to remain conscious in the face of pain and to work with your heart by relaxing and remaining open.

Remember, if you close around something, you will be psychologically sensitive about that subject for the rest of your life. Because you stored it inside of you, you will be afraid that it will happen again. But if you relax instead of closing, it will work its way through you. If you stay open, the blocked energy inside of you will release naturally, and you will not take on any more.

This is the core of spiritual work. When you are comfortable with pain passing through you, you will be free. This world will never be able to bother you again because the worst the world can do is to hit the pain stored within you. If you do not care, if you are no longer afraid of your-self, you are free. You will then be able to walk through this world more vibrant and alive than ever before. You will feel everything at a deeper Level. You will begin to have truly beautiful experiences rise up within you. Eventually you will understand that there is an ocean of love behind all of this fear and pain. That force will sustain you by feeding your heart from deep within. Over time, you will form an intensely personal relationship with this beautiful inner force. It will replace the relationship you currently have with inner pain and disturbance. Now peace and love will run your life. When you pass beyond the layer of pain, you will finally be free from the binds of the psyche.

This passage is from Untethered Soul, by Michael A. Singer