living without pain
Illustration: Jenny Meilihove/ Getty Images
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 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 friends 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 friends 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 that. 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.

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 perspective. 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 more than 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? 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.

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 will then be able to walk through this world more vibrant and alive than ever before. 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 this fear and pain. That force will sustain you by feeding your heart from deep within.

The Untethered Soul Michael A. Singer is the author of The Untethered Soul: The Journey Beyond Yourself from which this excerpt on pain was taken.


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