Updated: Jun 10
Are you fed up of suffering with emotional pain? Do you wonder why you still hurt so much and can’t control it?
Part of being human is to suffer emotional pain. After all, everyone encounters it and no one gets away with it.
Here we talk about how to transmute that pain and turn it into joy. It is possible, without doing anything else, to see pain in a new light and lift that blanket of suffering.
We Can't Control Our Pain
The first thing we have to accept is that negative emotions can’t be controlled - that you can’t do anything about them.
It's only then can we free ourselves.
The Buddha believed that all pain originated from desire or craving and that to be free of pain, we need to cut the bonds of those cravings.
Cravings happen when we look for joy or fulfilment in something outside of ourself. Of course, joy doesn’t originate from something outside of ourselves, it comes from within. Already we’re in a tricky situation because we’re craving the impossible: joy, but from the wrong place.
We’re Wired To Run
Talking about emotional pain is not encouraged; ‘get over it’, pull your socks up’ or ‘what have you got to be unhappy about?’ are all things we expect to hear if we discuss our depression or anxiety.
We live in a world where we are taught that suffering emotional pain can be avoided by running away.
Even if this means finding a way of numbing ourselves, it can be easier than dealing with on-going problems. And, why not? Staying with pain is exhausting right? We’d be stupid not to run away.
Unfortunately, the problem with running away is that it creates bigger problems like long term anxiety and depression. It’s easy to get caught up in between a rock and a hard place; it’s too painful to feel the pain and too scary to fall back into a depression.
Turn Pain Into Joy With Emotional Alchemy
Modern thinking is beckoning us to look at new ways to transform pain into joy.
There’s no better advocate of this than Paulo Coelho with his best selling book “The Alchemist”
The metaphor of alchemy is that “each thing has to transform itself into something better and acquire a new destiny” writes Coelho.
He describes our physical world as the visible part of God. He also suggests there are invisible spiritual forces that work in a way that is largely unknown to us. In his book, alchemy occurs when that spiritual plane comes into contact with our physical plane.
The story tells us that alchemists used a magical philosopher’s stone to transform lead into gold. But lead and gold are metaphors for our internal world: both psychological and spiritual transformations.
How Mindfulness Plays Its Part
The idea of alchemy and emotional pain transforming into joy seems far-fetched. However, in some world medicines, like Chinese, the word alchemy describes the process of integrating ‘mindfulness’ with emotional pain.
The point is that the transformation of alchemy enables us to accept everything in our emotional pot without trying to correct or reject it. It believes that even ‘the negative’ is part of the healing.
The emphasis is placed on the ‘process’ of transformation rather than the end result. There is no goal to reach the gold.
How Mindfulness Dissolves Pain
The essence of mindfulness is to see things as they are without trying to change them. Mindfulness teaches us to dissolve our reactions to pain rather than trying to resolve the pain itself.
If we look at the role of mindfulness in healing emotional pain, it’s like the sun dissolving the haze over a forest. By mindfully staying in the present moment, the haze dissolves and uncovers the beautiful forest below. Similarly, mindfulness uncovers the space in which the pain lives allowing us access to our inner joy.
The effect of the haze dissolving may only be a few seconds but we have the tools to dissolve the hazy fog again and again.
If we want to live a fulfilling life, connected to joy, we have to learn to face our pain. Ignoring it only makes it worse. It’s when we face it head on that we find deep joy and emotional freedom.
And mindfulness isn’t looking at a way to solve problems or map out a future. What it does do is help us be aware of the pain so we can be liberated from it. We don’t need years of therapy to transmute pain to joy - quickly.
How To Turn Pain Into Joy
Pain requires our awareness to survive. For it to survive, we have to identify with it. We have to believe we have created these feelings: I am depressed, I am stressed, I am in pain. If there is any "I" in the feelings, it means the pain has a hold on us.
The pain is not us at all. ‘We’ are the space in which the pain lives.
We don’t need to actively control or resist the pain because this gives it strength. Neither do we need to think our way out of it because our thoughts will be tainted by the painful thoughts we’re are already having.
Instead we let it be completely. Pure awareness is all that is required to break the identification of our pain. Once we break the identification, it loses power over us and it will weaken.
There is really nothing we can do except be aware of it. When we are aware of it, a gap is created between us and the pain. What used to be ‘I am depressed’ is now a temporary feeling within our awareness.
That is all there is to do.
As far as the pain goes, we don’t want to be duped into thinking that we will never be free or there must be something we have to do or resist to eliminate this pain.
If we don’t judge or resist it – we make it weaker. Judgements and resistance that arise in relation to the pain is part of the drama of the pain body itself . Judgements and resistance strengthens the pain. Allowing it to be weakens the pain.
We simply (very simply) allow it to be. We feel the power around it and how it affects our thoughts. It’s with this approach that the pain transforms into gold and we regain our own consciousness.
How Do We Do This?
be aware of your breath. Inhabit your inner body. Feel that you are the space that this pain is playing out in. Take "yourself" out of what is happening and just observe. Be quiet and just watch, feel.
All of a sudden the pain doesn’t feel insurmountable. It’s is just there and there is a background of spaciousness and peace emerging from behind it. This is all part of the the state of things as they are in the present moment - which is all life ever is.
We may even feel that we don’t mind the pain being there any more because it’s not got the power it once had. It can leave whenever it wants.
Meanwhile we remain as a peaceful observing consciousness.
Practice coming into a mindful awareness of your pain whenever you remember.