June 20 – The Air after Pain, Mark Nepo, The Book of Awakening

Live for the air after pain and there will be no reason to run.

Hippocrates said that pleasure is the absence of pain. Anyone who has ever suffered knows this is a deep truth. When I fell into the gauntlet of tests that awaited after the pronouncement that I had cancer, I was terrified of being in pain. I introduced myself to every physician and nurse as Mark-put-me-out-Nepo. But with every procedure, there was some medical reason why I had to be awake. I came to realize that there was nowhere to run.

Once I accepted this, which took some time, I understood that what was most terrifying about my pain was the prospect that it would never end, that life would somehow freeze in whatever moment of discomfort I came upon. The terror gained its power from not being able to imagine life beyond the pain.

The breakthrough moment for me came the day I had to have yet another bone marrow sampling. For some reason, these were the worst for me. But with the appearance that day of some deeper grace, I suddenly saw it differently. I recognized that this very uncomfortable procedure lasted at most forty to fifty seconds and I was arranging my entire life and being in anticipation and avoidance of those fifty seconds.

For the first time I realized I had a choice. The pain of those seconds would be the same, but I could ground myself, including my fear, in the very real fact that my life would resume after those 50 seconds. There would be light after the air, once again, after the pain. For the first time, I felt in my soul that I was larger than my pain. This empowered me.

So many times, in our despair, we see our pain as something that will never end. In fact, this often defines our moments of despair: when we believe that our pain contains the rest of us. In contrast, there is this sense of peace to work toward: the belief that our life contains our pain.


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