Written by Jiovann Carrasco, LPC-S
In many ways our culture is repressed and fearful. Pain is viewed as something to be avoided at all costs. Some of those costs actually include inducing further pain in attempts to escape an imagined pain. And most of the pain we actually experience is of the imaginary kind.
For example, a woman stays home from attending a party because she is afraid that her ex-boyfriend will be there and she imagines that that would be too embarrassing and awkward to bear. So she ends up saying NO to her imagined pain, and stays home only to incur a whole night of turning possible embarrassing scenarios over and over in her head and obsessively checking her ex’s Facebook timeline for possible updates, which can only make things worse. Feeling isolated and pathetic, she neglects her friends and deprives herself of meeting new people.
The result of avoiding pain in this case seems to lead to even more pain and missed opportunities. So what happens if she were to go to the party and he actually is there? Might it be embarrassing and awkward? Perhaps. But at least now she’s experiencing feelings that are directly related to the event itself, rather than her thoughts about an event that hasn’t happened. In other words, life. When we say no to life, we create additional layers of pain and it can be hard to tell what is real or imagined.
Mindfulness puts us in touch with life as it exists in the present moment. Does that include embarrassment? Oh, yes. But do we have to avoid it? Sometimes this is ok, when it doesn’t incur further pain or doesn’t stop you from living your life. But when avoiding pain, real or imaginary, creates more pain, why would you? Instead, say YES to pain.
Let me explain. What I mean by saying YES, is not the same as agreeing with, approving of, or wanting it. I’m not saying you should convince yourself through positive thinking that pain is preferable; “Mmm . . . I love pain!”--that’s silly. It’s a way of opening up to what is already there, a way of making peace with the present moment. A sober and objective acknowledgement of the thoughts, feelings, and sensations that arise into the moment and pass in their own time. It’s an allowing of what’s there to be there, without adding judgment, aversion, or resistance to the equation.
Try this. Say no to yourself, either out loud or in your head, for 30 seconds. Take note of what you are feeling in your body. Now say yes for 30 seconds. What is that like? Are you not more open, relaxed, accepting, energized? Now think of the kinds of things you often say no to. See what it’s like to say yes to that. And when you feel the natural force of your learning history shouting, “NOOOO!” say yes to that. Say yes to your history, yes to your love handles, yes to rush hour traffic, yes to your late fees, yes to anxiety, yes to cancer, yes to rejection, yes to confusion and uncertainty, yes to your life.
Say yes, because saying no is to suffer unnecessarily.