What is pain?
Biologically speaking, pain is a signal in your body to stop doing whatever you’re doing. Like, if you get your leg bitten off by a tiger, pain is your body telling you to get the fuck away from that tiger. Pain is really good at that.
Or, if you’re sick, pain is your body telling you not to eat raw tiger meat again. And that’s the last tiger analogy of this post.
Pain is a tricky little bitch though. Sometimes our body gets confused and just makes us hurt all the fucking time. If you’re a tall guy like me, and you have a problem with your spine, sometimes pain will just kick your ass all day every day for no damn reason.
Basically, pain is meant to guide us towards a healthier lifestyle. If dopamine is our body’s carrot, pain is the stick.
Much like dopamine, pain has a way of manipulating us, of getting away from us. We’ll go to great lengths to avoid it, just like we’ll go to great lengths to get our next fix of dopamine from food or sex or drugs or whatever your vice of choice might be.
That aspect of fear towards pain isn’t helpful, in my view. In fact, sometimes I think we should seek out a little pain in our lives. Pain drives us to grow, to be strong, to challenge ourselves. And yes, pain punishes us when we fuck up, but that pain is a signal that we’re growing as human beings.
With every heartbreak, we grow along with the pain. We come out the other side of the pain, and we’ve learned about ourselves. We’ve learned, and grown, and we’re stronger than ever because we went through that hardship.
When you exercise, you are literally tearing apart your body so that it can rebuild itself, stronger. We as humans are great at that. We’re tough little fuckers.
My main gripe, and my reason for writing this, is that pain and suffering are not the same. Haruki Murakami wrote this in his memoir:
“Pain is inevitable. Suffering is optional. Say you’re running and you think, ‘Man, this hurts, I can’t take it anymore. The ‘hurt’ part is an unavoidable reality, but whether or not you can stand anymore is up to the runner himself.”
Suffering is not the same as simple pain. Pain is a bodily signal. Pain is a useful mechanism of our bodily lives. It’s inevitable, as Murakami says. Suffering, though, is different. Suffering is our own mental interpretation of pain. Suffering is the voice inside our own heads, telling us we can’t take it anymore. Suffering is the mental anguish we inflict on ourselves as a response to the physical discomfort of pain.
What I’m trying to express here is that you don’t have to suffer because of pain. You can find some presence of mind in that moment to interpret the pain as what it is. Pain is a bodily signal. Pain is telling you to eat better, to exercise more, to get up and stretch yourself periodically instead of slouching all day. Heartbreak is your body telling you to be a little more careful, a little kinder, a little more mature. A broken leg is your body telling you that you’re a fucking idiot for jumping off that bridge.
But none of those things mean that you have to suffer. They’re just signs that you need to grow, to change, to do a little bit better in your daily life. To take better care of yourself. Because ultimately, pain is a sign that we’re growing, or that we need to grow. Pain is a sign that our body wants us to be stronger. And we owe it to ourselves to listen.