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Five Pain Archetypes

What is yours and how is it serving you?

There is one relationship that is sure to come and go throughout our lives. When we are deep in it, it seems endless. When we are without it, we can barely imagine what it was like. It is a relationship we share with all living beings and yet ultimately, we face it alone.

Pain: physical, emotional or mental, is a fact of life. It is our relationship to it -- our ability to listen to it and understand it -- that keeps us stuck, or frees us from its grip.

If you were to view the way you deal with pain as your ‘Pain Archetype’. What would yours be?

The Worrier

Have you ever had a scratchy throat and worried that you’d end up with a full-blown cold and not be able to do what you have to do that week? The worry can be likened to a Buddhist teaching of the “second arrow”. The pain, in this case the scratchy throat, is the first arrow. The fear of the pain is the second arrow.

The Pusher

We’ve all had to push through pain at times. Our bodies, hearts and minds are well-equipped to do so. Short term, that is. It is when pushing through pain becomes a habit that we miss the message our body is trying to communicate. It is then that we often come into increased pain or a pain pattern.

The Masquerade

At the first sign of a headache, do you pop a painkiller, effectively masking it? Do you go for a run to “fix it”? Do an exercise? Something else? I recall a strategy taught by the school nurse at an International School my kids attended in Chiang Mai, Thailand. When kids came in complaining of a headache, she’d give them a large glass of water and ask them to lie down for fifteen minutes. Most of the time, the kids felt better well before the time was up. She empowered them with a useful skill for dealing with pain, rather than masking it.

The Denier

I must admit to being a denier before I realized my strategy wasn’t working. Denying the pain is especially common in the yoga world where teachers aren’t supposed to have pain. Can you relate to that in what you love to do? Athletes shouldn’t feel tired, mechanics shouldn’t have car trouble, psychologists should be perfectly balanced…you get it.

There is a difference between denying pain and not indulging in it. Turning toward it, getting to know its transient nature and listening for the lesson from the pain is where we experience freedom.

The Avoider

Are there activities you’d love to do but are afraid of the pain? Emotions you’d like to share but are afraid of being hurt? Fear that leads to avoidance can be a very healthy habit when we need to know if it is safe to cross the street for example. Yet, knowing when avoidance is self-limiting opens us to choice and the zest of life.

None of these archetypes and their strategies are bad. Thank goodness for medicine when we need it. Thank goodness we have the strength to push at times when we need to. Empowerment and freedom come when we are aware of our habits and know when they are serving us well and when another strategy would serve us better in the long term.

It takes courage to stay with pain, to catch the blessing. This relates to one of the Yamas, or ethical pillars of yoga, that is likened to “staying in the fire” of something challenging — to catch the lesson.

To learn more about your relationship with pain and a short meditation to change to it, listen to my podcast:

“Pain is inevitable, suffering is optional.” Haruki Murakami

May you live with physical, emotional and mental ease and joy,


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