There’s Power in Pain

What is this season even going to look like, I wondered?  I knew how this cross country program had gone for the past 9 years, but this?  This wasn’t the program I knew at all.  It was some sort of mutation, and the thought of my runners missing ‘Last Runner Standing’ runs, a whole season of races, and barely getting in regular practices felt futile. The fear of losing well-established traditions, connections, real effort, and just plain fun was real for me.  I honestly wondered why bother if there wasn’t going to be anything I could really salvage for these kids.  The challenges of trying to establish a meaningful cross country program with all the limitations presented by the pandemic felt completely overwhelming,  

I love coaching and I am passionate about the program I have coached for the past 10 years.  It has given the kids who have run for me real connection and fun.  I’ve been honored watching them stretch and grow to achieve the goals they set for themselves.  Trying to think of ways to put together a season that would give this year’s runners those same things felt overwhelming, and filled me with sadness for my runners and even for myself. 

It is not easy to ease into emotional pain.  In fact, most of the time it doesn’t feel like we ease into it at all.  It’s more like jumping into a tub of ice water, except this is filled with cold fear and anxiety that causes us to lose our breath.  

It’s true the fastest solution to avoid the pain is to jump out of the tub, but are there benefits to the icy cold water?  I know for me, when I run hard, an ice bath, albeit shocking, helps my swelling, reduces the pain in my legs, and promotes healthy blood flow, so I can recover faster.  But there IS that initial pain.  That discomfort.  There’s no denying it.  Being suddenly submersed in shame, fear, anxiousness…all feel terribly uncomfortable.  But is there information useful?  Are there benefits to allowing ourselves to sit with these emotions for a bit when they come up for us?  Can becoming familiar with these emotions ultimately enable us to build our resilience over time?

These questions feel easily answerable…when we aren’t feeling fear, what I call being in “the arena.”  When we find ourselves in the area (braving something new), struggling and don’t come out on top, instead finding ourselves lying there with our face in the dirt, the icy chill of fear or shame washing over us, we need to be brave enough to allow ourselves to feel those emotions.

But, we don’t just brave these emotions to reach an external goal.  We brave them so we don’t fear feeling them.  This doesn’t mean we seek out our uncomfortable emotions.  But becoming familiar with them helps us learn that they don’t last in our bodies, and that 

they can’t truly cause us harm.  Like a martial artist, we don’t train to fight, but rather to keep peace (or, stay centered).  

But we don’t run from a fight either.  When it comes right down to it, I don’t want to be uncomfortable.  Failing would be fine if it wasn’t served with a big helping of anxiety and self persecution, washed down with a big old cup of shame.  Think about it.  If we’re always comfortable, then how can we ever know that we are actually trying.  Our discomfort provides us with important information, letting us know that we are stretching or growing, telling us we are doing something that goes against our values or best interest, or even that we have just plain messed up.  

When you boil all of the uncomfortable emotions down like fear, grief, anxiety, anger, or shame, it comes down to this:  

We want to avoid emotional pain.

Nobody wants pain, I get it.  I don’t want it more than the next person myself.  But avoiding pain and not liking it’s sensation but listening to what it’s telling you anyway are two TOTALLY different things.  Emotional pain in all of its forms is there to tell you something.  It’s there to give you information.

It is this willingness and learned discipline of ‘staying’ with our uncomfortable emotions, listening to them, getting the information they provide and moving forward that allows us to become familiar with them.  We need to release our emotional judgement of anxiety, fear, and self doubt, becoming familiar with them to such a degree that we realize they are mere advisors.  Like any advisor, the information they provide may or may not be taken, but that decision is always left to us, and it will leave us that ability to choose, no matter what emotion rises within us — that is resilience.  

After giving myself some time to acknowledge the emotions of overwhelm and sadness, I mentally stepped back and wondered what information they were providing to me.  I realized that the sense of overwhelm was tied to my desire to give the kids a meaningful season, which would mean having to create something completely new!  Of course that would feel overwhelming.  My sadness informed me how important it was to me to try, in spite of how overwhelming it might seem, because it was important to me for these kids to have as much connection, fun, and growth as could be had!  

I told myself, “Though it’s not gonna be like last year, what is it that I can control to give these kids the chance to have the experience I want them to have?”  The fear began to subside.  Curiosity took its place (and a bit of anxiety too of course). There’s no guarantee that anything new that I make will work out.  But there is a guarantee that if I don’t try and instead just stick with the old way of doing things, then, rather than being guides, the disappointment and sadness will just stick around and hold me up.  I think I’m gonna follow my team’s motto this year. “Change is inevitable, growth is optional.”  I feel a bit of excitement creeping in as I contemplate a structure for our first week of practices… 🙂

2 Replies to “There’s Power in Pain”

  1. What a wonderfully written piece Lou. I read it with a lump in my throat. We’re all feeling emotional pain right now and you’re exactly right, the goal should be to understand the information it is trying to impart. Thank you for this. Karissa

    1. Thanks Karissa, you are very welcome! I find for myself it’s definitely a great deal easier to listen and understand feelings when they are pleasant, but a lot of time it’s those “unwanted” feelings like fear a d uncertainty that have the most important information to give me. Thanks again for reading!

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