A few nights ago, Chris and I watched a documentary called Prescription Thugs, which is essentially about the prescription opioid epidemic in the United States. I can't say I'd really recommend the film, but it got me thinking about a dark side of our boot strappin', problem-solving culture:
Many of us believe that pain is always bad.
Sometimes pain is a bad sign - it can be your body's indication that something is wrong and needs to be fixed.
Other times, however, pain is a good thing. Pain protects us by making sure we don't touch hot surfaces, run into sharp objects, or hurt ourselves in other ways.
Pain can also be a necessary gateway we have to pass through in order to get to the other side of something.
This has been on my mind a lot as I approach giving birth in just a couple of months. Well-meaning moms and doctors have often shared horror stories about the pain of childbirth, and there's a whole narrative swirling around that says "pain in childbirth is bad, so get rid of it."
The epidural and other pain-relieving medications have been lifesavers for many moms, and I believe every woman should be given the opportunity to give birth in whatever way she wants to - painlessly, painfully, or otherwise.
But the idea that pain is automatically bad is wrong - in childbirth and in personal growth, the pain is necessary in order to complete the cycle of bringing new life into the world.
Not knowing what to do with our gifts can be incredibly painful.
Sometimes the question feels so big that we just want to avoid it, hopping from misfit job to misfit job. But the denial that something is painful or the belief that it shouldn't be painful can actually make things worse. As the Zen master Alan Watts says:
"There will always be suffering. But we must not suffer over the suffering."
Finding your way and giving birth to your gifts is excruciating sometimes, and that doesn't mean that you're doing anything wrong.
The pain of not knowing can actually help us get to the knowing if we'll sit with it, stop pretending that it's not happening, and maybe even befriend it.
If there's a part of you that hurts because you feel like you've lost your way in life or your career, I'd encourage you to try something a little "out there" but incredibly effective:
Ask the pain what it needs.
Imagine the pain as a color or a shape inside of you - give it some texture and dimension. Approach it lovingly. Then ask: what do you need right now?
Maybe it just needs time to work itself out. Maybe it needs you to do that thing you're afraid to do. Maybe you won't get a straight answer right away, but keep paying attention to how it feels in your body. Notice it and try not to be afraid of its presence.
The pain you feel can be a gift - it indicates that there's something more for you out there.
If you can lovingly accept the pain of not knowing, you give yourself the space and self-compassion you need in order to find what you seek.
Not knowing what you want to do in your worklife can feel incredibly isolating, which is why it's so important to surround yourself with others who are positive and encouraging. The Facebook group I facilitate is one such community, and I invite you to join us.