What's Causing Your Pain?

Thursday, November 6, 2014

As many of you know, we had to put our sweet basset hound, Swanny, to sleep a few weeks ago. He was diagnosed with lymphoma in August so we knew our time with him was limited. Putting a pet to sleep is never easy, even in the most obvious circumstances. Somehow being the one to make that decision, to end the life of a loyal member of the family, is heart wrenching. That heart wrenching pain is real. It’s the pain of loss and the result of having so much love for the one you’ve lost. This type of pain is what Martha Beck calls ‘clean pain’. I just completed Martha Beck’s life coach training program so have learned a lot about different types of pain and suffering the past 10 months. Clean pain is the real feeling of loss, of sadness, of grief. When our pain is about those real feelings and we allow them to move through us without judging them, we can move through the painful time more smoothly than if we let dirty pain arise. What is dirty pain?

Martha Beck describes dirty pain as the pain we create from the thoughts we attach to the clean pain. For example, “I’m sad that my dog passed away” is clean pain. “I shouldn’t have let him suffer so long”, “I never should have let him go through that painful surgery”, or “I never should have gotten a dog” is dirty pain. It comes from painful thoughts that run through our head that we attach to and keep us in a loop of suffering. Dirty pain makes clean pain, well, dirty. It mucks it up. It makes it more difficult to process. It causes additional suffering. Having this understanding makes me realize how much more suffering we put ourselves through by creating dirty pain. I did this a lot the past few weeks after we put Swanny to sleep. I knew it was normal to be sad that my dog passed away. I loved him dearly. He was a huge part of my life and I miss his presence. But when I found myself questioning some of the decisions my husband and I made towards the end of his life and wondering if those decisions caused Swanny any additional suffering, I made my pain dirty. My thoughts about this specific event were creating my pain.

Stopping dirty pain starts with recognizing it. Recognizing it comes from paying attention to where and when your pain and suffering is arising. Sitting on my couch in the evenings with the empty space next to me were Swanny used to be makes me sad. That is clean pain. I allow that feeling of sadness to move through me without judging it. I also get sad while I’m out running and think of the last two months of Swanny’s life and question whether my decisions during that time caused him additional suffering; however, that sadness is clearly attached to thoughts about the event of putting him to sleep. That makes it dirty pain. When I catch myself in the act of creating more suffering for myself because of those thought, I can choose to change them or let them loop through my brain causing additional suffering.

Our human brains like to create stories of suffering. We can be sitting in a peaceful calm ocean-view setting and suddenly start feeling fear because our brains decide to worry about our retirement funds and whether there will be enough money in them, when we retire, in 25 years… Clean pain? Hardly. It’s dirty pain created by thoughts that are attached to the event of retirement. I can give you endless examples of how we all create dirty pain but hopefully you get the gist. Pay attention. Keep your pain clean and allow your mind the space for more fruitful thoughts that don’t enable self-created suffering.

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