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Pain as a facilitator of learning

This morning my foot fell asleep. At first it was numb. I laughed sleepily as I flung it about like a rag doll, unable to sense any motion. Then the tingling started. “Oh crap,” I thought as the synapses in my brain connected, reminding me of my previous experiences with waking up sleeping body parts. The tingling spread like a paint roller covered with millions of acupuncture needles up my foot towards my calves. After attempting to speed up the process by violently shaking my foot, I sighed and relinquished my control to the inevitable. The pain swelled and receded like tumultuous ocean surf until at last, calm seas.

I think it is a very human response to turn away from pain of any form. When we are on the precipice of a painful experience (be it physical, emotional, spiritual or otherwise) our natural inclination is to flee. Masking, avoiding, shutting down prematurely, feeling in increments that we incorrectly perceive are “as much as we can handle” all lead to the pain not serving its purpose: to teach us.

Pain is the original facilitator of learning. The stove is hot. We touch it and burn our hand. Lesson: don’t touch the stove, you dumb dumb.

Allowing ourselves to fully experience pain as it happens, letting it work us over, creates the most productive type of learning: a combination of intellectual comprehension with a physiological sensation to reinforce the message. Any time we intrude upon the process out of intolerance for momentary discomfort we rob ourselves of the opportunity to learn this specific lesson.

As you undergo individual experiences with different types of pain, try to fight your natural responses to shut down, for your own long-term benefit. Pain acknowledged, felt, and addressed will lead to a happier existence. Pain ignored and pushed aside will reemerge in intervals until it receives the attention it was intended to receive. After all, pain demands to be felt.

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