The Wisest Teacher of All: The Pain Teacher

By Jimmy Warden

Over the years, we’ve had many teachers in our lives. Our parents, siblings, friends, school teachers, coaches, mentors, and many other people in between. We’ve also had a teacher that doesn’t take the physical form of a human being, and this teacher is perhaps the wisest teacher of all. This teacher, is the pain teacher.

Who is the pain teacher?

The pain teacher was first brought to my attention by a wise, holistic lifestyle coach, Paul Chek. Chek states that the pain teacher is the numerous lessons that we learn from experiencing pain. These forms of pain come in all shapes and sizes, from physical pain, to emotional pain, to spiritual pain. The important part about the pain teacher is that we must listen to it in order to reap its benefits. If we don’t, we’ll continue to be in the pain that we’ve been in, and we won’t have figured out any ways to minimize the pain that we feel.

Physical pain

There are a lot of ways that we can be hurt physically. Falling off of a bike, touching a hot stove, getting a sports injury, being involved in a car accident, and anything in between. We feel that pain because there was something that occurred that we shouldn’t have done, but we did it, so we feel pain as a result.

For example, when we’re young, we’re told not to touch a hot stove. Oftentimes, we end up doing it anyway. What’s the result? Sheering pain in our fingertips or hand. This is pain teacher telling us: “You shouldn’t touch that stove again, otherwise you’ll continue to feel this pain”. Same could be said for falling off a bike. Perhaps we took a corner too sharply, and we get dumped right off of our bike. This is the pain teacher telling us to be a bit more careful next time we take a turn. Maybe next time we take the corner a little bit slower or a bit wider to avoid that pain.

Emotional pain

Emotional pain is often a challenging form of the pain teacher to learn from because it often involves relationships with people whom we care deeply about. It could be our relationship with ourselves or our relationships with others. The pain teacher in these instances feel like a deep, knife wound in our hearts and guts. This is the pain we feel when we’ve been betrayed by someone we love. This betrayal manifests in the form of lies we tell ourselves, lies we tell others, and lies others tell us.

An example of a lie from someone else could be from an intimate relationship. Maybe we’ve been extremely faithful to our partner, and then we find out that they’ve been having an affair throughout the relationship. This would cause a tremendous amount of emotional pain because of how trust was broken. The foundation of every great relationship is trust, and when trust is no longer there, the relationship crumbles to pieces. The same outcome would occur if we were the ones committing the infidelities.

An example of a lie we might tell ourselves is saying we’re going to do something specific, but then we don’t follow through. This causes regret, which is a difficult emotion to overcome because of the feeling of worthlessness that comes with it. The more lies that we tell ourselves, the more that regret builds, and our emotional stability wavers.

Spiritual pain

I like to think of spiritual pain as the tension and angst that we feel when we aren’t fulfilling the duties of our highest self. Essentially, that means that when our actions are not aligning with our core values and who we know we can be.

For example, if one of your core values is honesty and you find yourself lying all of the time, you’re going to feel a lot of angst with every lie, an intuitive feeling that there is a disconnect between your beliefs and your actions. The same could be said for any of the other core values that we try to live by. When we aren’t living in alignment, our spirit is off-kilter.

How to listen

Listening to the pain teacher starts with thinking about the question: What is this pain trying to teach me? From here, quiet the mind. Don’t consciously think about the question, let the answers arise from your subconscious because it is wiser than the conscious, thinking mind.

What I’ve learned from my pain teacher

I’ve learned a lot from my pain teacher throughout the years. I’ve experienced some physical pain that I’ve battled through, I’ve been in a few relationships that were not helpful to me, and they have all affected my spirit, but I was blind to the lessons at the time because I was blind to the message the pain teacher was trying to teach me. I felt all of the pain tremendously, but I didn’t know how to deal with it.

The first time I heavily experienced the emotional pain teacher was my freshman year in college when I was in my first long-distance relationship. My current partner at the time was attending college in New York City and I was attending college in Northfield, Vermont. We had been dating for several months, and like most eighteen year olds, were in a stage of puppy love that felt a lot like the real thing. Needless to say, a couple of weeks after we each starting attending our respective schools, we broke up.

I was lost. Dumbfounded. Heartbroken. It was as if my heart had been ripped out of my chest, torn into thousands of pieces, sewed back together, and placed back in my chest. It practically immobilized me. At that point of my life, it was the worst emotional pain that I had experienced in a relationship. I tried everything that I could to try and win this person back, but with each attempt, there was just more pain of rejection. I tried so hard to do this, I would answer every text message and every call that was sent by the other person as quickly as I possibly could. This would show them how much I cared, right? Yes, but it wasn’t enough to make the relationship what it was before.

Oddly enough, we stayed in communication for almost the entirety of that school year, and to this day I’m still not one hundred percent sure why. I know my rationale was that I wanted them back, but I was not completely aware of their motives, even though I had strong suspicions.

What I didn’t realize was it the pain teacher telling me the pain I was experiencing was growth pain. This pain was teaching me I had to move on with my life, but I was letting the relationship hold me back. It was preventing me from getting adequate sleep, meeting new people, and spending time on other important items like my school work and athletics.

It was a shame that I had to learn another lesson a few years later in a different relationship. This one was a similar length endeavor with a different set of challenges, but I’ll try to make a long story short.

It started with hanging out a couple of times in the evening as friends, but it quickly escalated to something more than a friendly relationship. This situation was sticky from the start, as my friends tried to warn me of the infidelities this person was known for, but I ignored my friends because they simply “didn’t know her like I did”.

That was my first mistake.

Sure enough, there were rumors flying around that this person was going behind my back and being unfaithful. I confronted them about it, but the conversation immediately spiraled out of control. The tables were instantly turned on me, as I was called out for having trust issues. So that made me think, maybe I was the problem.

We continued dating and later parted ways to our hometowns for the summer, but agreed to maintain our relationship despite the distance. Similar sketchy vibes continued to fester, and we broke up after having a fight about me having trust issues. I eventually learned that she was being untruthful about who she was seeing during the summer, and that stung. But the great part is that I learned a whole lot from the emotional pain teacher.

I learned that love has no guilt. Meaning people who are in love (whether it be intimate love, parent-child love, or friendship love) do not make each other feel guilty. In this relationship, I was made to feel guilty over protecting my dignity. I also learned to trust my intuition more. I always had a gut feeling that I wasn’t doing the right thing from the beginning, especially because my friends had warned me about it first, but I ignored all of those signs because I thought I loved her.

I’ve learned a lot about pain from the physical pain teacher. There have been numerous injuries I’ve experienced throughout my life, from sports injuries to freak accident injuries.

The sports injuries have taught me the value of patience.

I have had numerous sports injuries in my life. From a torn meniscus, to pulled hamstrings, to sprained ankles, to a broken nose, to a concussion, to a pulled groin. My body has been through the meat grinder. However, with several of these injuries, I did not give my body adequate time to recover before returning to play. This ultimately led to further injury and more time away from the sports I loved.

For example, I tore my meniscus during a lacrosse game when I was a junior in college. I planted my left foot to make a spin move and my body spun, but my foot stayed planted. I spun too quickly and I felt a pop in my knee, followed by excruciating pain. I kept playing because it was in the middle of a possession, and I somehow managed to score a goal by shooting a laser from 15 yards out from the goal after receiving a skip pass from a teammate behind the net. I hobbled off the field after the goal to celebrate with my teammates, and like any college athlete would do, tried to play through it. Needless to say, I ran for about 10 yards the next time I got out on the field and immediately asked for a substitute. I sat out the final three weeks of the regular season and prolonged surgery until after our conference playoffs. Luckily, I didn’t get hurt more than I already was, but I would not have the same amount of luck a couple of years later.

My senior year, I pulled my left hamstring during lacrosse practice. It was bad. The pain felt worse than my meniscus tear two years earlier. I couldn’t get off the practice field under my own strength. As a captain, an on field leader, it was devastating. I couldn’t help my team in the way I felt I could help the best. So I did everything in my power to try to return to action as soon as possible. I rehabbed. I stretched. I iced. I listened to the trainers. That’s why I felt like I was ready to get back on the field a couple of weeks later. But when we were running through our pregame routine, I was trying to run past a teammate in a drill, so I planted hard on my left leg and… POP! There it went. My hamstring was now back to how it felt during that practice a few weeks earlier. This prolonged my actual return for another couple of weeks.

Since then, I’ve pulled my right hamstring on two occasions. One being a similar amount of pain, the other being much less pain and no pop. Regardless, both of the times I’ve pulled my right hamstring, post college athletics, I have eased my way through the recovery process. I’ve still recovered hard, but I’ve also recovered smarter. Instead of trying to push my limits before I knew I was one hundred percent healed, I’ve slowly tried to add more physical activity to my life, and pulled back if the injury flared up.

The freak accident injuries taught me to be grateful and forgiving.

I was in a car accident several years ago and I suffered a dislocated shoulder and facial lacerations. It was an accident that just kind of happened. It was no one’s fault. It was an uncontrollable event. As a result of the uncontrollable event, the driver lost control of the wheel, resulting in the car going off the highway, down into a gulley, and crashing into some brush.

Luckily, the two passengers and I made it out alive. For that, I will be forever grateful. It could’ve ended with much more than a few injuries. I also forgave the driver from the moment after the accident. It was not their fault. It was not their intention to put themselves or the people with them in danger. It was just a freak accident.

I’ve learned a valuable lesson from my spiritual pain teacher too.

I’ve learned I should try to live in alignment with my best self more frequently. I have had a bad habit of telling myself that I am going to live a certain way, but then I fall back on the bad habits I’m trying to break. This has been a vicious cycle that has caused me a lot of spiritual pain because I’ve gone through periods of self-loathing and negative self-talk that has really made me feel inadequate. The only person I have to blame in these situations is myself because I have control over what I do and say.

What this means for you

If you decide to take some of the lessons that I’ve learned through the pain teacher and try to engage in these lessons in your own personal life, you’ll find yourself in a better situation. You’ll be learning a lot more about yourself than most people because of the examination you’re doing with the pain that you’ve experienced in your life. A lot of the pain you face in life can be minimized when you engage in this type of reflection because you’ll be less likely to repeat the same mistakes in your life that have caused you pain in the past.

So think about your pain teacher. Listen to your pain teacher. And experience how much more glorious your life can be.

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