Pain is my teacher


“Let the hard things in life break you. Let them effect you. Let them change you. Let those hard moments inform you. Let this pain be your teacher. The experiences of your life are trying to tell you something about yourself. Don’t cop out on that. Don’t run away and hid under your covers. Lean into it.

What is the lesson in the wind? What is the storm trying to tell you? What will you learn if you face it with courage? With full honesty and – lean into it.” — PEMA CHODRON

I have become, over a long period of working on my sense of self-worth, fairly resilient. Recently, however, I was “down” for longer than usual because of something rather judgmental that was said in an e-mail about something I may have been intending to do. The punch to my solar plexus was that the e-mail went to a group of people, and I began to work the self-pity and victimhood scenario fairly strong. I woke up in the middle of the night and grumbled about it. I would pray and meditate about it in the morning, which helped temporarily, but grumpy-pants would come back for a couple more days. I wrote about it, trying to organize my thoughts about my feelings. I struggled to understand how I could have such a strong reaction. However, each day was a bit lighter.

Finally, the “Aha!” moment came. I remembered the day in second grade when I had made some mistakes on my math problems in class. Angry at myself, I took my ruler and systematically drew diagonal lines back and forth over my entire paper. The teacher, seeing what I had done, took my paper and showed the entire class, mocking me, causing them to laugh, searing the memory of this shameful moment deep into my psyche. Now a minor similarity to that time in second grade triggered the same defenseless boy to activate another dive into worthlessness.

Unearthing this memory allowed me the freedom to forgive myself for my current reaction and choose a different response. I understood the whole mechanism of my shame. I could name it. I had empathy for myself. I saw how easily I had given away my self-esteem and dignity, almost automatically, without thinking, as if someone had simply asked me to pass the salt at the dinner table. “Oh, sure, here you are, take it, please.” I was complicit in creating my own pain.

I’m not the defenseless little boy any more. I know many things about myself and I have many tools for bringing me back to center. Yet it seems true that the more that I know, the greater are the challenges that are placed in my path.


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