If I put my hand on a hot surface, the pain causes me to remove it. Pain is my body’s indicator that I need to change my action to prevent more damage. Physical pain is usually more obvious to us, but in my experience, emotional and mental pain is more excruciating. When I am hurting inside, I feel trapped and I want out. I am highly motivated to make a change.
But, can we change without hitting rock bottom? Can we make significant changes to our lives and overcome weakness, change habits and paradigms, become a different person without an impetus as strong as pain? I used to believe, that for me at least, the answer was no. I would see something I wanted, but was unable to attain it. I would start down a path toward it, but never reach the destination. I would pick up a stick only to drop it again. My experiences were telling me the answer was no. But that was still seeing through the lense of pain.
Little did I know I was making changes all along. Changes for the better. They were just small. I was on the path I wanted to be on, it was just at a walking pace. Some of those changes were motivated by pain, but in actuality the changes motivated by pain are the ones that slowed my pace. If pain motivated me to pick up the scriptures or pray, once the pain was gone, I slacked off. (Does this sound like the pride cycle in the Book of Mormon?) I only ever had one Psychology class in college, and it was on behaviorism. In it, I learned that when pain (or punishment) is the motivator, the change is not as likely to last as when a positive reinforcement is the motivator. When the cat is away the mice will play.
The lasting changes come from a desire for something good. Freedom from bondage comes when we see a glorious destination and keep our focus on it long enough to get there. When relieving pain is our motivation to change we are to some degree blinded by that pain, we do not see clearly, and any action that relieves the pain even temporarily seems like the right choice. When in reality, we may be walking into a bigger pain down the road by changing according to what relieves the current pain.
For example, yesterday afternoon, I was busy, moody and hungry. I was feeling a pain. I took the first option I found to relieve that pain, it was peanut butter filled pretzels – junk food. It temporarily relieved my hunger, was a comfort food for my moodiness, and took no time to prepare. But that choice, in the long run, gave me a miserable experience at Crossfit a couple of hours later – physical pain. And last night I was commiserating to Jonathan about changing my diet, and frustrated with my repeated inconsistency and failure – an emotional pain. Both of which were greater than my initial discomfort earlier in the afternoon.
Choices based on pain, are usually looking at the immediate consequences. They don’t give us the desired result. If I had chosen based on my positive vision of wanting to be physically healthy, have energy, feel good emotionally, and perform well at Crossfit, I would have taken a little time to get myself some real food.
So my conclusion now is that pain is actually a worse motivator than a desire for something good. Pain may be the initial motivator, but I must learn to choose not based on relieving the pain, but rather on the vision of what I really want. This ties in to the law of attraction. If our mind is focused on the pain, we will not see clearly to relieve it. Instead we must focus on the bigger vision of what we want. But how do we do that when the pain is present?
Remember my desire for the gift of Charity at Christmas? Part of the description of charity is to suffer long. That takes humility. Submitting to the pain, even as child doth submit to his father. That certainly describes humility. When I can accept that pain – of whatever kind – is part of the mortal experience, take a step back to embrace that feeling, physical or emotional, and ask “what is there to learn from this?” I open myself up to being teachable. I may not have the answer within myself yet, or I may, but I am forgetting it. The pain is blocking it from my memory. Either way I must be humble to allow God through the Spirit, or another person, to teach me.
I do have some crucial pieces of knowledge to help me.
1. Men are that they might have joy. This encourages me that the pain is not meant to last eternally, though in the moment I may be wondering.
2. With faith in, and through the atonement of, Jesus Christ, men do change. I do not have to do this alone. He will strengthen me if I let Him.
3. Embracing the pain, and finding humilty to accept, actually lessens it. It lets the Savior take that pain from you.
So, yes, pain is an indicator that we should change, and a powerful motivator, but whether pain is present or not, to obtain any change, to reach any goal, we must find Humility. We must be ready to learn and work for the knowledge we need, hungering and thirsting after it. Aware of our own ignorance and lack of knowledge and skill. We must be ready to submit to the mentor – God, and others he puts in our path, acknowledging they have knowledge and skills that we need.
Humility is the first step in Liber. It is the hardest and the easiest.