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#51—Chronic Pain

Greetings Philosophers,

This consolation is especially dedicated to those who suffer from chronic pain. This is because I have experienced chronic suffering only in the last few years due to back issues.

Friedrich Nietzsche said: “To live is to suffer, to survive is to find some meaning in the suffering.” One of the ways I have found meaning in suffering is that it has brought about a deeper compassion for all those people who deal with chronic pain on a regular basis.

Where I disagree with Nietzsche is in his wording. I would say to live is to experience pain. This is because the Buddha taught that we do not need to suffer. I think this means that pain happens, but what we do with that pain is causing us to suffer or be free of suffering.

In other words, if I tell myself that I should not experience pain, then not only am I lying to myself, but I am also fighting the nature of reality. The “story” that I should not experience pain only turns the pain into suffering.

Struggling with chronic pain is very difficult. In a couple of cases my pain was so severe that I ended up in the hospital. Pain that intense takes over one’s ability to be objective and separate pain from suffering. Thus, I have experienced the growth of compassion for those consumed by pain. So, even here, something good comes from chronic pain.

But my pain is not usually that intense. If I sit quietly with it and just surrender to it in the present moment, it is endurable. What makes it much worse is the “story” that the pain will never cease. That becomes unendurable.

Sometimes I must lay down and be as present as possible for the back to slowly relax. If I let go of the future and just be there, pain becomes an opportunity to meditate (since I can’t do much else).

I have also found it helpful to just let go of what I “should” be doing. That also just brings more suffering. There is nothing to do but be present. This “practice” has meant that not everything I want to get done gets done, but the main things do get done (even if a bit later than I wanted).

I have found that pain connects me more to the state of the world. It provides insight and perspective on all the pain experienced by so many. I am not alone. Knowing this is comforting. It motivates me to live in such a way that my choices and behavior do not cause more pain. And, even better, it motivates me to try and be an agent of compassion and service to help eliminate the needless pain so many endure.

If we work with our pain rather than suffer from it, perhaps it will help us see properly. Ken Wilber, a favorite philosopher who has had to deal with a chronic illness and pain for decades now, can nevertheless write: “I rise to taste the dawn, and find that love alone will shine today.”

My wish for myself and anyone else that has to endure chronic pain is that we will be free from suffering and let love alone shine through us.

To freedom from suffering,


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Thank you for this. I loved Ken Wilber's comment, " alone will shine today."

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