Pain-free is not an option.

Whether it’s the pain unfolding into the next phase of life, like a flower bud holding tight against the blossom of release. The stone-in-your-shoe annoyance at work that nags you to live a bigger life.
The pain of consciousness inhabiting a body that ages and fails. Or the discomfort and uncertainty that arise from stepping away from or being forced out of your comfort zone of habituated routine.

Life and its myriad of sensations includes pain. There is no escape.


But there is a choice — the choice to inhabit smart pain over dumb pain.

Dumb pain is the story from our childhood, or perhaps even our parents’ childhood, that we believe is true today. The story line we constantly whisper about how we were unseen, uncared for, unlucky or infected with an unrelenting fear.

Dumb pain is what we do again and again, not because it helps, but because it soothes. It’s our skip in the record, the habit-worn groove, the go-to lie that we always fall for.

Dumb pain is the way we sidetrack ourselves into settling for less, rather than inhabit the uncertainty that life could be different. It’s the least developed parts of our selves constantly whispering unhelpful advice, those parts that don’t know how to move forward, but attempt to convince us that if we listen, we won’t go backwards.

And so we stay put. We stay put, even though the world endlessly extends an invitation to unfold into a more integrated and brilliant version of ourselves.

Smart pain is something completely different.

Smart pain knows that shifting the trajectory of our lives requires inhabiting new behaviors and thought streams. It’s the discomfort that comes from stepping out of the soothing slipstream of habit. The disquieting process of failing our way into success. The pain of saying goodbye to solutions that at one time served us well, but now are the stumbling blocks that keep us small and constrained.

Smart pain is enduring the disappointment, fear or concern of those who love us, as we change into someone they don’t recognize. It’s the part of us that knows “what” but is not yet sure of the “how.” It’s the sound of our protective shell cracking and falling away.

The wisdom of many traditions says that pain is unavoidable, but suffering is optional. Dumb pain surely brings suffering. Smart pain opens a path of liberation.