Posted by: walkerswalkabout | June 8, 2013

The Positive Uses of Pain

I apologize for the length of this post, and ask that you bear with the pain that brings and read to the end.

Near as I can tell mainly four types of pain define our existence here on the gnarly skin of the planet.

One is the pain of stress and worry. Father of panic attacks, death of dreams. Mother of catastrophizing.

Another is the pain of productive effort. I have dug postholes. It hurt. I have thinned beets. It hurt to be in the sun all day, shoulders ragged-sore and hands blistered red and white by midafternoon. Or the hurt of running laps around the asphalt track, again and again, preparing for the Friday race. Or the pain of enduring another’s pain. Maybe the hardest, but necessary if one is ever to risk love.

Another is the pain of refinement. Often this makes no sense except in retrospect. Often we add to it the pain of frustration, or the pain of railing against whatever we think is the origin. Or……in fits of excellence, we endure it well, patiently, focusing on other’s needs, not our own pain. Learning to endure in hope, not blame. Sometimes forced to focus small, hours or even minutes at a time. Like the 2 month span of time after our flood in Iowa when my wife and I would at night-time consciously write down 3 things positive that had happened that day (sometimes this took some pondering), and would pray mostly to be granted hope during the following day, so that we could keep putting one foot in front of the other. What didn’t kill us….

This pain, the pain of refinement, eventually brings joy if we endure to “the end”.

Then the best and most productive pain—when the pain of not changing exceeds the fear of doing the new. So we take the leap. As we endure, the crash if any most often brings the burn of phoenix fire.

In the late 80’s at a time of introspection during an MBA class, I decided I was becoming soft. I was no longer willing to put myself in fear’s way. My solution was to take up road biking. My first ride of 7 miles exhausted me. My first crash (not at speed) bruised me and mashed the banana in my hip pocket. Two subsequent crashes (at speed) broke one helmet into 3 pieces, dealing me a concussion, and later, a speed-crash split my helmet from back to top, twisted my bike, and planted a bruise as large as a dinner plate onto my hip. A deep bruise. As I lay alone, curtain drawn around me for privacy, in my stylish split-back hospital gown, with my entire pink backside hanging out, in the emergency room in Lynchburg, Virginia, I asked myself if I was getting too old for this (I was in my early 40’s). A profound feeling of peace came over me that convinced me of my wrong thinking, and I have ridden many thousands of enlivening miles since, including just a few days ago. With no more at-speed crashes.

I am sure other kinds of pain, yet outside my awareness, impinge upon other’s peace. I could learn from these others were I willing to explore this terrain.

And… as I am now once again feeling that I am becoming soft, too susceptible to fear, I will surely discover more of this territory.

Do the new.

What’s new for you?




  1. Pain has taught me the value of perserverence and patience. Perhaps I should try the pain of new experience!! Will let you know how it turns out.

    • I look forward to hearing about your “adventures”.

  2. some pain leads to growth, some doesn’t. it is good to be able to discern between the two and choose only beneficial suffering IMO.

  3. Therein lies the trick for certain.

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