What Can We Learn From Pain?

Have you ever faced overwhelming pain? Physical, psychological, emotional and spiritual pain are parts of everyday life. Yet our reaction to pain is ultimately an exertion of our inborn free will. Moreover, our ability to positively respond to pain is a discipline we’re empowered to cultivate. It’s called resilience.

“Resilience is the virtue that enables people to move through hardship to become better. No one escapes pain, fear and suffering. Yet from pain can come wisdom, from fear can come courage, from suffering can come strength—if we have the virtue of resilience,” states New York Times Bestseller author Eric Greitens in Resilience: Hard-Won Wisdom for Living a Better Life (Haughton Mifflin Hartcourt, 2015).

At the core of Greitens’ book is the belief that once you’ve successfully been through a painful situation, you can integrate that learning into your character and as a result, strengthen and enable yourself to persevere in future contexts. He challenges the popular idea of people “bouncing back,” because that concept implies that you get back to the original situation. Instead he proposes our elastic capability to move forward with the newfound wisdom that hardship offers us, which stretches our human capacity to endure.

We’ve All Touched Fire

Some pain is obviously constructive. For example, at some point we all touched fire and realized it was not a good idea to continue to do this. This type of pain is easy to rationalize and necessary to our generational survival.  But, since the beginning of time, every human civilization has wrestled with the mystery of unexplainable pain: Catastrophes, violence, illness and death. Today, our culture shies away from these concepts and promotes the opposites: Safety, security, health and longevity—or the catch all, happiness. Eventually though, we’re all confronted with the irrefutable realities of our existence. And while the agony of this type of pain is not desirable because of its lurking inevitability and potentially tragic consequences, there’s probably no greater skill in our lives that warrants more understanding.

Fortunately, we can learn from thousands of years of recorded history. Lessons from historic and everyday heroes who have used struggles to gain a deep understanding of human experience have endowed us with pragmatic wisdom to navigate our own lives. The wisdom derived from the annals of the past is much too precious, rich and deep to cover in a few simple words or a top five list—it must be earned.

Wisdom Steps In

The wisdom found in notions such as vocation, humility, responsibility, acceptance and reflection are some of the key ingredients for resilience. These hard-won concepts must be practiced, internalized and sustained. And therein is the good news! The virtue of resilience can be mastered.

It starts by focusing the area you want to develop, then by behaving in accordance to the principle. Eventually, sustained practices become a habit. Overtime, it becomes a virtue.

That’s it! No shortcuts, summary or checklist. Rather: Discipline, steadfastness and mastery.

Unavoidable pain can make or break you at any time. Resilience promises a path that can channel your hardship toward a greater good in your life. Prepare now.

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