Just released! Rabbi Noah Weinberg’s 48 Ways to Wisdom. Click here to order.
What is the opposite of pain?
Nine out of 10 people will say, "Pleasure."
Incorrect. The actual opposite of pain is "no pain" – i.e. comfort. And while comfort may be very nice, it is not the ultimate pleasure. A person who goes through life chasing comfort will be very disappointed at the end – because if you spend your life avoiding pain, you will also avoid the deepest pleasures.
As much as everyone tries to minimize pain in life, the fact remains that pain is unavoidable. Everything has its ups and downs. Therefore, if we want to succeed in life, the key is not to eliminate pain entirely (for that is impossible), but rather to learn how to understand and accept the pain.
Way #25 is b'kabalat ha'isurim – literally "receiving pain." The 48 Ways says: Pain is the price we pay for pleasure. All of life's lasting pleasures – good relationships, successful careers, the pursuit of meaning – require a lot of effort to achieve.
What we call "pain" is frequently a matter of "effort." The effort of physical fitness is painful. The effort of thinking through a complex idea is painful. The effort of building a long-term relationship is painful. From here we see that although effort may be "painful," the goal of life should not be to escape it.
Anyone looking for a smooth ride will miss out on life's immeasurable pleasures.
A Pain-Pleasure Example
Real pleasure is inseparable from pain. Here's an example:
What would you say is your parents' greatest "pleasure?"
That's right, you.
What would you say is your parents' greatest "pain?"
The same answer. You.
It's not an accident that your parents' greatest pleasure is also the source of their greatest pain. Because the greater the pleasure, the greater the effort required.
Beyond this, the greater pain we experience on the way toward a goal, the greater we enjoy the success of reaching it. In other words: The more we pay, the more we treasure.
To pursue comfort is defined as "decadent." When an entire society makes comfort its primary goal, that's dangerous. The Roman Empire collapsed because of decadence; they got too comfortable.
The low birth rate in the Western world is an indication of contemporary decadence. I often ask young people how many children they want, and they tell me "two."
"Why so few?
"Because I love children, and I want to give them every advantage. It'll be difficult enough sending two children to university, let alone five. And what about clothes? And summer camp? With two children it's feasible, but with five?"
That sounds logical. So I say: "Okay, I'll give you one million dollars for one of your siblings. You've got three of them, so you won't miss one. She'll be given every advantage. No harm will come to her. You just won't see her again."
"Are you crazy? That's my sister you're talking about. I wouldn't take 10 million dollars for her!"
Do you see? If you run from pain or effort, you're really running away from pleasure.
Fear of Pain
Often, the fear of pain is worse than the pain itself. An inoculation takes all of one second, but anticipation of the pain can last for hours beforehand.
Fear of pain is the greatest restriction there is. If you're afraid of traveling, you'll never go anywhere. If you're afraid of physical or emotional exertion, you won't achieve, you won't grow, you won't find truth.
We all have a choice: Either pay in the pain of trying, or in the emotional pain of knowing you're too weak to try. For example: If you don't ask for the job, you avoid the pain of refusal – but you have the pain of being a quitter the rest of your life. And that always comes back to haunt a person.
What is at the core of someone's choice of suicide? What is really driving the person when he picks up a gun to put an end to it all?
He wants to avoid pain. He wants to escape.
In the words of Shakespeare, "To be or not to be, that is the question. Whether to withstand the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune, or by taking arms against fate... to end it all."
That's what he's looking for. He wants to sleep.
To help you confront tough situations, remember: "Pain is passing, results are lasting." In fact, pain is often just a threshold to cross into a world of pleasure. A good example is the dentist. The drill and filling will take an hour, and the pain will subside in two. But the filling will prevent further decay, and give you eating enjoyment for years to come.
Fear of Reality
The biggest fear people have, and the one most important to overcome, is the fear of facing up to reality. People would rather live an illusion than wake up to reality.
Why? Because if reality turns out to be something different than what we're used to, it means having to change our course in life. And that hurts!
We all choose to escape, now and then, from the effort that's involved in accomplishing life's goals and ambitions. We all want to be great; we all want to change the world. It's just that we don't always feel like putting forth the effort. So we distract ourselves and escape from who we really are and what we want to achieve.
The 48 Ways says: It hurts a lot more when reality confronts us, especially when it may be too late to do anything about it.
Always ask yourself: "What pain am I avoiding?" Identify exactly what you're afraid of. Reason it out: What's the worst that could happen?
As an exercise, make a list of the goals you'd love to achieve if no pain was involved. Then next to each goal, write down the amount of pain you anticipate in trying to reach those goals.
Then, write down what makes the goal so worthwhile. Now compare the two columns. If a particular goal is truly worthwhile, then you'll see instantly how your fear of pain is holding you back from achieving that goal. And it will clarify how you'd even be willing to pay the price of pain to achieve it!
Keep Your Eye on the Ball
One of the best ways of getting rid of pain is to forget about it and focus instead on the pleasure.
It may seem as if pain and pleasure can't occur simultaneously, and that if you're feeling pain there is no pleasure. Wrong! Even when there's pleasure to be felt, if you're focusing on the pain, you're numb to the pleasure. Switch the focus and you switch the feeling.
Imagine a team of basketball players, running around the court, pushing themselves to the limit, just to score a basket. Do they notice the pain they're feeling? Barely. The pleasure of playing and scoring overwhelms their feeling of pain.
Now what would happen if you asked them to conduct the following experiment:
"Play basketball as you would normally – run, jump, shoot, and defend. But this time, do it without the ball!"
How long do you think they could play for? Maybe five minutes. Because without the ball, there is no pleasure to distract them from the pain. Every step now seems like a major effort.
Give them back the ball, and they'll play for another two hours!
Judaism says: Keep your eye on the ball. If you want the ultimate in living, then you'll want to learn all you can about life. This will enable you to focus and make any effort a pleasure.
Focus on the Up-Side
Imagine a little boy playing with his friends. He falls down, scrapes his knee and begins to cry. But when his friends call out, "Cry baby!" he quickly pulls himself together and goes back in the game.
An hour later, the child comes home, walks through the door, shows his mother his knee – and immediately bursts into tears!
Our enjoyment of life has a lot to do with how we deal with pain. Many people have learned to say, "So what!" and take pain in stride. Others focus on their suffering and get stuck in a mode of complaining and self-pity.
Many people make the error of focusing on their failures, rather than on their strong points. This causes pointless anguish and pain. Every human being is created with marvelous talents and potential. Therefore, to obsess over your shortcomings is as foolish as going to a wonderful restaurant – beautiful view, exquisite furnishings… then fretting that there's no salt. "NO SALT! How can that be?! It's an outrage!" What could have been an enjoyable experience turns into a nightmare for you and those around you.
Those who achieve the most are those who endured the greatest pain. Would you stop the revolution because you have a splinter in your finger? Would you hold up wisdom because you have a headache?
In fact many relationships sour for the same reason. Rather than focusing on the positive, people focus on the negative.
People will swim in ice-water or walk over hot coals just to conquer the pain of doing so. Overcoming pain gives us a sense of our own free will, and how much we can shape our lives.
Learn to focus on the goodness amidst the pain, and you'll discover the maximum pleasure that life can offer.
Pain of Others
The rules are different when it comes to other people. Don't ignore their pain. When you visit a friend in the hospital, don't start preaching about how he should "look at the positive side." Compassion and understanding will help alleviate his pain.
Similarly, don't look away from the suffering of humanity. If there's a problem in your community (or even in some faraway land), ask yourself: "What can I do to alleviate it?"
A person would need to be blind (or self-absorbed) to be unaware of the plight of humanity today: despair, persecution, broken homes... Those who have some sense of vision write a check when there's a knock on the door. But even they are "too busy" to get personally involved.
It is the rare few who go out of their way to seek real solutions.
Greatness is not "upping your donation" from last year. Greatness is becoming involved, in making it as much your problem as the one who is suffering. That is where a leader will be found, and that's where your own greatness will ultimately be expressed.
Why Did God Make it This Way?
God could have created us as automated robots. But instead He gave each of us a set of challenges – and the potential to overcome them. This is how we grow and "repair our souls."
Utilizing our free will is the essence of what it means to be a human being.
Every moment we're alive, we're using our free will to choose between life and death, reality or escapism. It's a constant choice. We're either making the choice to take the pain in order to grow, or we're quitting.
Which is not to suggest that we should go out of our way to seek difficulties. But if there is a process that we must undergo, then it's foolish to avoid it. Too often we busy ourselves with petty distractions, in order to escape the confrontation with reality. But it always catches up with us eventually. Because it's part and parcel of our reason for being, all part of the Grand Eternal Plan.
Effort is a process that each of us has to go through. We have crucial life lessons to learn, and it's precisely for that reason our souls have come to earth in the first place. Our greatness is found in using our free will to resolve conflict, fight and accomplish. To bite the bullet and not run away.
You know you've got what it takes. Now go and get it.
Why is "Accepting Pain" a Way to Wisdom?
- "According to the effort is the reward." The more effort you expend, the more pleasure you'll get.
- If you jump ship when the waters get choppy, you'll never make it to shore.
- Accept the pain of confronting reality and finding truth.
- Deal with the difficulties of life by finding pleasure within the pain.
- Don't fear the pain; learn to welcome it as a necessary byproduct of growth.
- Don't escape the suffering of others.
- Learning wisdom requires struggling to research an idea, understand it, integrate it, and practice it over and over.
Just released! Rabbi Noach Weinberg’s 48 Ways to Wisdom. Click here to order.