”Out of suffering have emerged the strongest souls;” wrote poet Khalil Gibran, “the most massive characters are seared with scars.”
If you look into the background of many of the most famous authors, performers, inventors, and thinkers, you will find that a very large percentage came from broken homes, suffered poverty or serious childhood illness, or have some learning disability, etc.
Athletes Michael Jordan and Michael Phelps have ADHD, as did John F. Kennedy. Charles Schwab is dyslexic. Leo Tolstoy, Virginia Wolfe, and Ernest Hemingway all suffered from depression. The list goes on.
Pain is part of life. And pain leaves us with a choice: we can either let it define us or we can choose an equivalent or deeper, positive type of pain — one that raises us up emotionally, mentally, physically, and spiritually, rather than dragging us down.
When the individual clings to pain — blaming it for whatever and whoever they have become, or using it as an excuse for self-destructive behavior — every little thing becomes painful. They identify as a victim and begin to take a perverse pleasure in feeling wronged by family, friends, or society as a whole. In their own eyes, they are a kind of spiritually elevated sacrificial victim, sacrificed to everyone else’s “greed” and good fortune. Blaming others only increases the pain.
The other response is to recognize that suffering is part of life and that the only way forward is to choose a pain worth suffering — a kind of pain that is transformed into joy.
Thus the physically weak and sickly child decides to suffer the pain of lifting heavy weights to transform himself into a bodybuilder. Or the individual who suffers depression dedicates themselves to painting or making music, creating new worlds of the imagination, despite suffering financial insecurity for their art.
Angel Millar lying on the nail bed (left), circa 2018, and Angel’s back after getting off the nail bed. Note the indentations from the nails.
Physical pain is an unavoidable aspect of the martial arts. If you practice sparring, you will get punched and kicked. You will suffer exhaustion from intense workouts. In some schools you might be tested by being told to break a slab (or slabs) of concrete with your hand, have two-by-fours broken over your body, or, rarely, (as you can see above) might have to lie on a nail bed, with body weight driving the nails deep, and painfully, into the muscles.
When you make the decision to suffer pain in pursuit of a goal — and when that pain is part of the process that will make you stronger, faster, more skilled, more knowledgeable — it become joy. After a tough workout, and when the or her body is aching from exercise, the individual is emotionally on a natural “high.” Laying on the nail bed, the pain soon disappears if the mind is made to focus on the breath or on something else. What starts out as very painful ends up as very relaxing. The mind transforms the experience.
Stranger still, in embracing the pain of self-development, and struggling to become someone and something greater, its grip on the individual begins to be loosened. It fades into the background and becomes less and less important. The identity slowly transforms from victim to warrior.
Go ever forward in life. Choose the healthy pain of self-development. Mold yourself through dedication and sweat into who you can — and want — to be. You’ll be surprised at what you’re made of.
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