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Through the Pain Barrier

When you learn to accept pain, the price is right.

Avoiding pain wouldn’t be a problem if we all did it once or twice a year. But we do it all the time, hiding behind the Pain Barrier in our individual Comfort Zones and crippling our own lives.

A few rare individuals refuse to live in this limited way. Their secret is an ability to accept the pain of everything from failures and humiliations to the small, tedious pain involved in personal discipline- eating right, exercising, staying organized, all the things we know we should do but often don’t. Because they can accept pain, they can move beyond their Comfort Zone.

They manage this because they live in forward motion. Nature is always moving forward into the future and as part of nature we have to do the same. If you watch an infant learning to walk, no matter how many times he falls he’ll pick himself up and start again until one day he succeeds. Unconsciously, he’s tapped into a universal force that allows him to conquer pain. We call it The Force of Forward Motion.

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This force derives its almost magical powers by taking advantage of what we call the The Secret of Pain. The “secret” is that your experience of pain is relative. When you move toward pain it shrinks; on the other hand, if you try to avoid pain, it grows into a monster that pursues you. Try this: stand next to a swimming pool on a breezy day and put your big toe in the water. You’ll shiver with anticipated cold. Now dive in – in just a few seconds you’ll feel warm. The dive put you in forward motion. And this is just as true of emotional pain as of physical pain.

There’s just one problem. How do you get yourself to “dive in?” Thinking about it won’t help. We fear pain on a primitive, life and death, level. To overcome that fear we need an equally primitive emotion – desire. That’s right, to overcome pain you must desire it. When you desire something you move toward it and the pain shrinks. Of course, for most of us, desiring pain is completely unnatural. That’s where the tool comes in.

It’s called The Reversal of Desire because it “reverses” the normal desire to avoid pain into the desire to move right into it. With it, anyone- anyone at all- can overcome the psychic pain and fear involved in living. Let’s get one objection out of the way. This is not masochism. Masochists choose highly ritualized, controllable forms of pain that repeat themselves over and over. There’s no forward motion in that. It’s actually how they create their comfort zone.

The Reversal of Desire seeks out the necessary pain all of us have to face in order to keep moving forward through life and realize our goals. The pain of rejection a performer must face. The pain of aloneness when you leave an abusive relationship. The pain of concentration when you try to learn a new language. With this tool the Pain Barrier can no longer stop you from living life to the full.

Practicing in Southern California, one more objection to The Reversal of Desire crops up. Some people to whom I’ve taught this tool worry that desiring pain invites bad things to enter their lives. This misunderstands what the tool is. The Reversal of Desire isn’t a desire for a negative outer event; it’s a desire for an inner experience of victory over pain. Its imagery is positive.

The only bad news is that you can’t just use the tool once and be set free. Like all the tools, The Reversal of Desire is designed to be used over and over again. And unlike a child learning to walk, an adult must consciously choose to use the tool each time. The price is constant vigilance and effort. But if you refuse to pay you’ll stay stuck in an ever more oppressive and counterproductive Comfort Zone.

The price is more than worth it. When you live in forward motion life changes. You find yourself more in sync with the world around you. All of a sudden people and opportunities appear, as if out of nowhere, to help you on your way. You’ll never look at pain the same way again.

 -- Dr. Phil Stutz

Based in Los Angeles, Phil Stutz (left) is a psychiatrist and Barry Michels is a psychotherapist.

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