Complete this sentence: "Life is ______."
I could try to compile a list of what your answer might have been.
Life is beautiful.
Life is a journey.
Life is a challenge.
Life is diversity.
There are a multitude of words that one might use to try to sum up what observations could culminate a simple definition of one's experiences concerning life. So many in fact that an attempt to list them all would be pointless because it hits us all a little differently.
We have all mused at this quandary from time to time. What is it to experience life? What is its essence? What does it mean to live? And we could go on and on trying to come to a verdict. I for one would even enjoy this pursuit. But no matter what words or definitions one might try to use in an attempt to wrap up this monumentally involved undertaking, there is one word which no one could deny belies this thing called "Life" at so many critical junctures:
We all experience a significant amount of pain throughout the span of our lives. There is no one who does not. And it certainly does leave it's mark, doesn't it? In fact, there are many experiences in our lives that occur from which one person could derive great meaning and another could skip over it entirely. Not so with pain. We can't help but take notice. Suddenly it's there and (at the risk of stating the obvious) it hurts!
There is something about pain that just changes us. These changes are sometimes dramatic, creating deep emotional dissonance and even triggering disorders. But more often than not, the changes are manifest in subtle adjustments in attitudes and approaches to the situations in life that cause pain. Like the first time we touched a hot stove when we were children, we remember that it hurt and so we do something different to avoid the previous outcomes. And so it goes that some become resentful, some become defensive, some become angry, or some become bitter. We all have ways in which we cope. And just as in pain that we experience in the physical body becomes a wound, so too does emotional pain become a wound. And many times we experience the pain so closely that we even go so far as to call it a "scar"; a painful event that happened at one point in our lives that we remember always. But it is my belief that there is something, while in our pain, that we tend to misunderstand. We refer to traumatic experiences in our lives as "scars" and we interpret them as wounds that just don't seem to heal.
However, this isn't the pattern of a scar at all.
Consider this: when we wound our bodies and we begin to bleed, the body immediately begins a healing process and a scab forms (gross, right?). This is meant to stop the bleeding while the tissue underneath continues to mend. But what happens when you revisit the wound and pick at it? The scab peels away, the wound reopens, and the healing process has to begin all over. And if one where to continue picking at the wound, it would never heal at all.
Many of us address our emotional wounds the very same way. We experience pain which causes us to recoil and caudal the wound from others. Yet at a moment when we remember that we have experienced pain, we tend not to engage in activities which allow for the healing process to continue as it needs and instead engage in thought processes that would be akin to "picking at scabs." We revisit events in our memories and actively relive them, experiencing them again, and again, and again, sometimes even widening the wound! We remember the people that hurt us. We rage against them in our hearts and curse them from the depths of our souls. We lament not having handled ourselves differently. We pick, and pick, and pick. Yet we mistakenly call our still opened wounds "scars".
You see scars are wounds, albeit deep wounds, that have been allowed to recover properly. They are often a little more sensitive than the rest of us, but the nature of scars is that they tell a story. They say "I was once wounded, but now I am healed!" They are a monument to the pain that we have journeyed through to become the person that we are on the other side of grief. They prompt people even to ask what happened to us and we get to feel empowered when we tell them that we used to be seriously wounded but are now living well.
...but we can't do that if we have fostered a lifestyle of "picking".
And so I leave you with this challenge. I implore you, Reader, to learn to live a lifestyle of healing. It is not a matter of ignoring pain, nor is it denial to refuse to relive trauma. Reliving trauma only takes us back to the place where we were wounded and we cannot move on in our lives that way! Learn from what has hurt you, learn what it is that triggers your memories of that moment, learn to redirect those messages and empower yourself with positive messages; ones that don't widen the wound but strengthen the tissue beneath. Learn how to heal.
It's one of the most difficult things you can learn. And know, Reader, that I don't mean to belittle your experiences at all. As a fellow member of the human gene pool, I share them.
Pain hurts. But strength and healing comes not from the negative reminders of self and others, but from developing positive self-messages despite the pain.