Pain has many faces. But like so many things that we talk about in Universal Man, it can be one of life’s greatest teachers. Let’s try to understand pain and some of its faces.
The masochist is the one who just loves pain almost as an end in itself. That is not the approach we want to take here. Pain, in itself, has no intrinsic value. Instead it is an indicator that you are at a doorway to growing your own self.
In particular situations, we come to a crossroads and are required to make a choice. Now almost without exception that choice will lead to some sort of pain. There will be a physical pain, there’ll be emotional pain, psychological – in growth there will always be some sort of cost.
But it’s not just as simple as no pain, no gain.
It is important to understand pain if we are to unmask it’s wisdom. We live in this world now where pain avoidance is the norm. People are seeking the instant fix to address any discomfort. We don’t want to have any form of discomfort. We’ve got Panadol, Nurofen. It’s just amazing what we’ve become addicted to. And any level of discomfort, any level of unease or pain is to be avoided. Sadly in schools these days we are encountering more and more what we call the age of entitlement; too many young people feel that they are entitled to growth or achievement without the pain.
Now there are different types of pain. There’s physical pain around fitness, growing fitness, injury, ill health. The physical sense that your body is either growing to get better or is just unwell and is seeking health. Then there’s a physical pain that comes from the unconscious mind when there’s an incongruence in yourself. And this is your feelings about what is happening in the world, what is happening right now, and what could happen, what you’re hallucinating might actually end up happening in your life. And all these things manifest themselves in proper, physical, felt pain.
You might be feeling pain in your neck. Maybe you’re tense in your shoulders. And where does that come from? While it’s now manifested as a purely physical thing, where it’s come from potentially is stress, or anxiety, or worry about something. And so it ends up being like a psychosomatic condition. Your thinking is affecting you physically and your physical self is affecting you psychologically; it can go both ways.
It is important to understand the role that pain plays because it can be such a negative. It can engulf you if you let it get out of control, and it can trap you and hold you back. If you let it go, and go, and go again … if you don’t deal with it, it grows. It doesn’t stay still. It gets worse over time because if it’s something that’s emotional that’s wrong, and you don’t deal with it, the emotion eats away at you and grows as a complex over time. Or if it’s physical, you just get more and more injured, and more and more unhealthy.
So many people get trapped in that kind of a cycle. It’s almost a negative cycle. They see pain as being something that they want to avoid. And the more they avoid it, the more they’re in pain, the more they reach for pills, or whatever their form of avoidance is – they end up never facing the pain, never learning from it and becoming a better person because of it.
Pain avoidance can lead to all sorts of addiction. One of the main causes that leads people to constant addiction is the pain that they haven’t resolved within them, be it physical or emotional. But the way to think about pain is that it’s the pathway to growth. It’s your compass, so to speak. If you’re getting a particular pain you can say, “Well, that’s the thing that’s going to make me stronger, fitter, healthier. More emotionally connected. More congruent as an individual.” That’s the key. When you see pain, it’s not an negative. It’s a signpost.
It’s a signpost, and the invitation is to make it your friend. If it’s physical, you get your muscle systems, you stretch them, work them – there’s pain, when you befriend is you’re going to grow in a physical sense. So you are all the time listening, aware, choosing. If you go to the gym, and maybe you’re doing some push ups, and you don’t do enough, maybe you do 10 pushups but are capable of so much more. You don’t get any fitter. No. You just maintain the status quo. So the pain will only come when you get past your personal best or what you’re capable of. And that will help you grow, or get fitter, or even stay fit in the moment.
Pain is unique to every particular person. Within each sphere of pain; physical, emotional, psychological – what is painful for one may not be for another – what stretches one may not stretch another. The kind of things which challenge us, and stretch us, are going to change from one person to the next.
A lot of people have no interest in physical fitness. Greg loves fitness and it has been a part of his life since day one. So for those who are not into physical fitness where the pain and discomfort of that has no interest for them – that is okay as long as you’re comfortable with that. So some pains are acceptable to avoid if the consequences aren’t dire for you and it is not where you are called to grow. But make sure there is someplace within your life you are being stretched, challenged, etc. And that’s the space where you’re going to grow. And the actual effect of it – whatever that it is for you – will be where your confidence will grow. For some it will be your physical confidence, others your emotional confidence because you’ve faced this pain, you’ve worked your way through it. When you have worked through pain, faced it and learnt from it there is a calmness within you.
Pain faced leads to greater achievement. Pain engaged leads to results like achieving goals, getting stuff done at work, whatever it is you’re trying to do, whatever you aspire to right now. If you’re not experiencing some pain on the journey, then you’re not likely getting much of a result – certainly not as much as you could. Any journey worthwhile having, there’s going to be some headwinds. There’s going to be some pain, whether it’s physical, or emotional, or relational. There’ll be some sort of challenge there. Young people in today’s society can learn so much from this. As mentioned earlier there’s a big question about that sense of entitlement. Now when we can challenge young people with facing pain, and working hard, there is a resilience there. They can bounce back more. Their bounce back comes faster, and they bounce back stronger.
Some of that entitlement comes from the world they grew up in. As soon as you show young people the path through maybe a bit of pain, they accept that and understand it quite quickly. And then they can rise above their old belief systems about entitlement.
Pain faced leads to greater self discipline. When you embrace pain you grow in confidence, you are calm and that ability to say no to yourself leads to a deeper you. That ability when the alarm goes at 5:00, and you jump out of bed. And the first time it’s hard, and the second time it’s hard, the third time is hard, but after a while you just get into a zone. And the alarm goes, and you’re gone. So that ability to say no to what your body wants in the moment – because you’ve got a goal. Discipline.
Let’s talk about how you deal with pain. We understand what it is. We’re going to break this up into two components. One, how do you deal with just physical and understood emotional pain like stress and anxiety. And you know what’s causing it. And the other is when you’re getting pain, and you don’t know what the source is. You don’t know if it’s physical, or emotional. But something is not right.
The first one is around this physical and understood emotional pain. And the very first thing … so this might be something you’re stressed or worried about. It might be a sore knee, or an ankle, or something that’s wrong with you. Even you’re just ill. The first thing is to reframe it, and understand that the way forward is to know that the pain is the path. The obstacle is the way. And if you can overcome that, accept it, and understand it, and grow, you will actually grow as an individual. And when you can understand what the source of the pain is, okay. If I’ve got too many jobs on my case at the moment, and I’m rushing here, here, here, and I’m getting headaches, I’m tense, okay. Stop. Reflect, okay. I can work out why. What is going on?
Most of the time the signals you get in that space are very obvious. You’ve been working too hard, all of a sudden you’ve got a flu. And that’s partly physical because you’ve run yourself down. At the end you should have fought internal systems. But maybe it’s also completely psychosomatic. You’re body’s just saying, “Enough is enough.”
It could be as simple as you’re listening to your own body. And you know if you worked eight nights in a row, whatever the thing is, your body inside’s going, “Hey. Stop. Stop. Stop.” How to listen to that pain, your tiredness.
Another element of this is grit. The whole concept of grit – Greg talked to one of the great Wallabies of all time, Nathan Sharpe and he said he learned to love and enjoy the hard stuff, the grit. The more you learn to love the stuff away from the spotlight, actually the better you are later anyway. So reframe the pain and while not loving it as an end in itself – love it’s challenge and it’s path. It is not masochism if you are growing to be a better you because of pain embraced and faced!
Over the last so Christmas break, Pricey did the Tongariro Crossing in New Zealand. And it’s a 19.7km hike in a single day. But it’s up very high, and the day he did it was baking hot. So it was painful. It was uphill and hard going. But that grit, that hard yakka paid off – at the end of the day while tired, exhausted – he felt great. The beer at the end of that day at the local pub was just awesome.
The other thing about the physical and emotional pain, there’s another element to this which is just having some maintenance. So regularly meditating, staying fit, fasting, not eating for 18 or 24 hours once or twice a week, is a process of understanding, and dealing, and pushing through pain. All those things make you better at it. It’s like you get pain fit, so to speak. And that makes you stronger mentally, physically, emotionally. And you really grow as an individual. We’ve said it over and over again, all of these elements are actually linked. So when you’re doing all that, when you are getting into a rhythm of whether it be meditation, a rhythm of fitness, a rhythm of eating in a really good way, that rhythm becomes a beautiful psychosomatic thing.
We talk about mental strength! Greg recalls the first time he did a marathon – he thought it was a physical mountain to climb. But then he found out it wasn’t physical – it was mental. You learn mental toughness when you’re running the last five kilometres of your first marathon. And if you can stay strong at that moment, when all the voices in your head are telling you to stop, that’s when you start to learn what you’re made of. And as a result of what should have been a purely physical endeavour, he was mentally, emotionally, and physically stronger at the end of it.
As we keep on saying this new strength flows over into other things. You could be working on all this, and you’re in a conflict situation. And a year or two prior, you would have come out of that stressed, and uptight, and exhausted. Now you’re in a conflict situation, you are present to them, to the other and even though it is painful you come out of it feeling free. You’ve done your work.
The second element is that every now and then in life, you’re going to have situations where you’re having pain. You can’t work it out. No treatment, nothing seems to work. You just can’t seem to understand it. And this is where we you might have a deeper incongruence. Something isn’t right within you, and your unconscious mind is demonstrating physically that it’s unhappy. But sometimes it’s not entirely clear. And we want to tell a story to demonstrate this.
One time Greg had a guy who was working on his team when he used to work in the corporate world. Greg was coaching him to run his first ever marathon. It was about four weeks to marathon day and he started to get a really bad shoulder pain in his left shoulder. As the next week or two went on it got worse, and worse, and worse. He went and saw the top physic at a renowned university but it just didn’t get any better.
Over a period of two weeks, it got worse, and worse. And Greg said to him, “Hey, listen mate. Can we just spend five minutes? Let me see if we can find out if there’s something else at play here that your body is trying to tell you.” So let me rephrase that, “Is there something that your unconscious mind is trying to tell you.” Now we were able to almost thank the pain so to speak, and talk directly to the pain source. And this sounds a bit weird and a bit wacko, but hear me out.
What he was able to identify was that there was a positive intention for this pain. It was not purely physical, even though there was nothing about it that seemed emotional or psychological, there was. And he was able to identify the positive intention. And the positive intention was recovery. What was going on in the rest of his life was he was working long hours. He was training a lot, he’d left all of his training to the end. He was a really, really busy guy. And there was no recovery. So what ended up happening was there was therefore an incongruence within his psychology. And it said, “Enough is enough. You’re not showing me the end here. I’m going to slow you down. What I’m going to do is give you a bit of a sore shoulder and that will stop you.”
He didn’t see that. It wasn’t immediately apparent in any way, shape, or form. We were able to ask a bit of a question of his unconscious mind. We basically said, “Are there any conditions under which he can do something so the pain goes away?” And the message on the inside he immediately had when we asked this question was, “Book some annual leave.” Luckily we were in the office, and Greg was his boss. So Greg said, “Mate, book the leave right now, and go and book the hotel as well. Make it happen. Book it for the day after,” I think the marathon was on a Saturday, “book it for Sunday, of the following Sunday, and get away.
He booked that, and two days later there was no pain. He didn’t see another physio. So sometimes in life there’s a internal incongruence going on. And the signal that comes from the unconscious mind is purely physical, and it can be hard to understand.
The path in that situation is to listen. To stop. And if it’s just a physical sitting, and listening, and meditation session. Sitting with a friend. And out of that the wisdom, whatever the body’s trying to say to you, will come up. And it will come out of the left field. If you get really stuck on this, go and see someone who maybe has a hypnotherapy background or a psychological background in dealing with this. If you’ve got something that’s seems maybe there might be something more to it, then do that. What this is about is an incongruence. So that’s a really important point around when you don’t know the source of a major pain issue. (NOTE : Remember, sometimes you can chase a non-physical cause when there isn’t one. It is actually a physical problem you just haven’t found the root cause yet. The best thing in all cases is to seek professional help – psychological or medical)
Ultimately pain is an energy. And sometimes we’ve just got to kind of channel it. So we’re hearing it, we’re listening to it, and we just gently channel it into a really positive outcome. In the end pain can make you stronger. But only if you grow with it and overcome it. Otherwise, it doesn’t make you stronger. It just makes you a masochist. No pain, no gain in the end.
When you actually befriend it, when you reframe it as we’ve said, it loses its negative effect on you. And you begin to, we wouldn’t say actually look forward to it, but you’re not scared of it. There’s not the anchor chain, the drag, the emotional pull down, the energy loss. It actually turns into a positive and you go, “Okay. This is the signpost. This is the way forward.”
As Universal Men we’ve got to reflect, face and know that pain will be our greatest teacher if we but make the courageous choices – and that pathway is a pathway to something really special.