There is a vital difference between discomfort and pain, yet time and again, they are lumped into the same grueling category. One is temporary (discomfort); the other is eternal (pain). One can cause you to stumble (discomfort); the other knocks you to your knees (pain). One you can run from (discomfort); the other is inescapable (pain).
There is a wisdom within you that elevates you above both; but getting there means not only separating the two, but also becoming friends with your deepest afflictions.
YOU CAN CONTROL DISCOMFORT
You are in control of all of the discomfort you feel. Let that sink in: your anxiety, your stress, the burn in your muscles during a workout — all of it; you are in control. That’s why discomfort can, and should, be used as a tool to prepare you for pain.
Pain and discomfort both hurt, and they can be hard to endure. But while discomfort is within your control, pain teaches you the hard lessons — and how you use pain to learn those lessons is the key to building wisdom.
For me, yoga can get uncomfortable, but it’s my greatest passion. I don’t look at yoga as a workout. I look at yoga as a tool to work in, therefore I embrace the discomfort knowing that if I live in it, I’ll get better. The physical side is simply a byproduct. Running, on the other hand, has always been my favorite workout. Not because of what it does for my body, per se, but because of the mental release I feel. It’s a true runner’s high. When I’m 1/2 a mile from my finish line, with 5 1/2 miles behind me, I have two choices: I can slow down and be uncomfortable, or I can speed up and also be uncomfortable. Either way, it’s going to hurt. But I know that if I stay in this moment, when my legs are heavy and my lungs are burning, I am not only 100% in control of my discomfort, I am free. I am standing at the edge, but I am safe.
Pushing yourself — whether it’s preparing for a marathon or working to get a promotion — is what I consider discomfort. And isn’t that a beautiful thing? You feel something so strongly, so deep and so intense, yet you are in control.
YOU CANNOT RUN FROM PAIN
You cannot beat pain, but you can accept it as a necessary component of life — and then use it to learn.
“Time doesn’t offer healing. Time offers wisdom.”
Pain is a larger concept. We have all lost a loved one, or had our hearts broken, or had circumstances completely out of our control cause us deep burdens that we will spend the rest of our lives juggling. Time doesn’t offer healing. Time offers wisdom. It provides an opportunity for those who are willing to turn their greatest pain into their greatest glory. That’s pain. It doesn’t offer you a chance to control it, because it is bigger than you or me. Pain can give you wisdom to grow if you are in a position to accept it. But, step 1 of that acceptance comes from using your discomforts as mini scenarios to prepare you for the big show: your biggest pains.
USE WHAT YOU CAN CONTROL TO LEARN FROM WHAT YOU CAN’T
Without pain, we wouldn’t have the beautiful mystery that is love. Without darkness, we wouldn’t understand light. Joseph Emet, author and founder of the Mindfulness Meditation Centre, says, “the purpose is not to win battles, but to transform what feels like a battlefield into a garden of peace.” Think of the battle Emet is referring to as pain. You’re not trying to lasso what has been, and always will be, out of your control. You’re using what you have within your control (your being) to transform what was once a fear into a friend. Befriend your pain, and you are free.
Befriend my pain? I can already hear you laughing and see you rolling your eyes. Befriending your pain starts by pinpointing what it is. Remember, just like finding your edge on the mat, one crucial piece is pinpointing the pain’s source. The second step is acceptance. Acceptance can take a few days, months, even years. It’s a process, and there is no timer that will go off when you’ve finished because acceptance is a lifelong commitment.
I promise you this: If you commit to challenging yourself to be uncomfortable in ways you can control (yoga, running, work, etc.), you will learn your tolerance and your triggers. That way, when the universe deals you a joker, you’ll have confidence in your hand because you’ve taken the time to accept and learn — and know how to play it.