No Pain, No Gain! Are You Sure?

Was there a time when a friend or loved one said something to you that led you to a new insight or a moment of growth?

In my college years, I would venture with a group of fellow students for weekend retreats at a remote farmhouse in the mountains of western Pennsylvania. Back then, my head was spinning with new ideas gleaned from philosophy and psychology. Reading works by Jean-Paul Sartre and Albert Camus on life’s meaningless and absurdity, along with new lessons in theology and biblical studies, my young adult head was about to explode!

Transitioning to adulthood with great angst about my life, like the existentialists, I wanted to rip off the illusions we’d been taught about human existence and embrace my being fully. To that end, I was convinced that shedding such illusions would require hard work and pain. While it wasn’t a common saying in the 70’s, I was convinced of the truth in the adage: no pain, no gain.

One day while walking with Mary, one of the adult chaperones on these trips, I shared my desire to grow more fully and become fully alive. She stopped in the midst of our walk, looked at me directly, and said, “Growth doesn’t require pain and suffering. Growth happens. It’s the natural course of things.” Then she asked if I was enjoying the walk and time at the farm. I said that I was. She asked whether I was growing from the experience of being there: from the time at the farm, the meals, the laughter, and the conversations? Of course, I said. She pointed out that there was no pain involved with walking in the meadow with a friend, but there was growth.

It’s a myth that pain and suffering are needed for growth and insight. True, we experience painful events: death, failure of close relationships, or serious illness or injury. When terrible things happen in which we experience pain, these often cause us to examine life in different ways which leads to new insights and growth. But, insight and growth aren’t guaranteed just because some aspect of life is difficult or painful. Some people experience hardship in life and become bitter, closing themselves off from others and turning inward in ways that aren’t healthy. Others get through hard times with no insight at all, just simply being scared.

Growth in life is not dependent on circumstances. Instead, we grow and become better people because we are open to something new and aware of what’s happening inside us and around us. We are able to grow into our potential because we live in a way that is mindful and open to growth.

No pain, no gain? I think not. Gain in life, growth toward wholeness, isn’t about the pain. It’s about having open hearts and minds that are willing to share, explore, and embrace life in all its wonder.

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Are there times when you have grown from positive experiences? Think about some of them. How can you open yourself to more experiences of growth from positive connections with others?

© 2016, emerging by Lou Kavar, Ph.D.. All rights reserved.

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