The pain we experience is just a bloody idea


One of the most useful bits of knowledge — yet all too often forgotten at key moments in life — is that the emotional pain we suffer is an idea. It’s our thinking process at work.

You may often encounter the sage wisdom amounting to “be here now.” Emotional suffering is usually related to stepping out of the now to ponder a painful past or a frightening future. It’s often pointed out that being in the flow of the moment is the way out of suffering so much mental agony.

Take a common scenario: the romantic break-up. Boy, are we ever conditioned to get stuck in the muck here! I am prone to play scenes of my losses over and over. I think of all the great times that we shared, and I baste my brain in the painful juices realizing that those times with that person will never happen again.

But those are all ideas. It’s mind play.

We’re conditioned to do this, of course. Ironically, it is often our entertainment (soap opera, movies, romance novels, love songs) that condition us to step into the woe-is-me hit parade of painful thoughts. Think of any love story you have ever seen where a break-up is involved. There’s a long montage of all the cliches of suffering — the shock, the rage the hurt, the depression, the loneliness, the well-intended friends and loved ones who try to make it better but makeĀ  it worse.

If you were a novelist or a screenwriter or a playwright creating a love story, almost by definition of love story you would figure out different ways to make your characters suffer. That is all part of the schtick. We have become accustomed to certain arcs that love stories take, and just about always that includes a hearty helping of ooey-gooey misery.


So when you are trying to deal with a big challenge, part of the healing process is to simply recognize that much of the ick and yuck is your brain doing what it has been conditioned to do from years of (ahem) entertainment. You are following a cultural script, and many if not most or all of the people around you might join in as support for that script.

See if you can … be here now. Stay with the present. When you catch yourself swimming in memories of the past, gently but firmly remove yourself. Ditto when you find yourself lamenting that a future you had counted on isn’t going to happen the way you had planned. (Speaking of which, despite all the literature out there on the virtues of planning, I hear a lot from people who say that they never could have predicted some of the fabulous events that happened to change their lives. Just keep open to that.)

While we think of the circumstances of a break-up — or whatever else it is — as factual, as reality, the truth is that we never know the full arc of the story. We never know the person or the opportunity or the miracle that our apparent loss was creating for us. When you look for the gift in the event, you may discover that your loss is actually a win. By staying more in the present, you can ease your pain and make an easier transition.

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