My Bitter Teacher

Overcome any bitterness that may have come to you because you were not up to the magnitude of the pain that was entrusted to you. You are called upon to meet it in joy, instead of self-pity. This is a Sufi saying, as elucidated by the author and poet Stephen Levine. Every day I am given the honor to touch the pain of my patients, to receive their bitterness and self-pity. I am expected, like a pill, to make problems, pains, and heartaches go away. The faster, the better.

I treat pain every day, the physical and mental, and all types in between. Every day I warn my patients of the downside of quick relief. I’m often heard giving this speech: “When your pain disappears, this does not mean your problem is gone. Your self care should continue even without your pain, to ensure that it doesn’t return.” This makes sense to many. There are still many of us, despite sound advice, that will jump back into normal life once the aggravator is gone, only to see it relapse.

I would argue, as many have before me, to seek out a greater perspective when challenge arises. Not long ago I needed surgery to correct a hernia. My recovery took more time than most in my position. I saw my body fail, something I’d never experienced. I saw my need for support from everybody: my wife, my medical peers, the bagboy at the market, and even my two small children whom I could no longer pick up. It was new, difficult, and frustrating. I’m a fairly patient person to begin with, and no other book or person could have given me the master class in patience that my pain, immobility, and weakness did.

Life is full of bitter teachings and it takes courage to look at them with such a magnified view. With time, this practice becomes less daunting and the pains we all share become that less painful when accepted, approached, and even loved as part of your self.

You could wait until there’s an emergency before searching out help. Or you could take advantage of one of Chinese medicine’s most powerful tenets: prevention.

  1. Dr. Mao’s Meditation for Stress Relief helped me immensely during my recovery.
  2. Another practice is to visualize your pain, or any physical or mental problem, to look at it as closely as possible. Feel every sensation. Give it a color and a texture with your mind. Find exactly where it lives in your body. Then taking a dozen breaths see if you can open your mind, your breath, and your body at the site of this discomfort, releasing the tight grip of anger, pain, or tension. Soften everything with your breathing. Then repeat several times until things become more bearable. Investigate, treat and repeat.

Use these during a struggle or benefit even more in getting to know them before they are needed. We can all suffer, but with the right tools we can and will learn from teachers of every kind.