Have you ever written a Thank You to someone or something that challenged you? Try it with me:
Dear Brooklyn (my pup),Thank you for snoring like a grown man, it lets me know that you’re alive and sleep wondrously.
Dear Food Allergies,Thank you for helping me eat cleaner, for pushing me to learn how to cook, and for making every dining experience a daring adventure.
Dear Winter Wind, Thank you for letting me use my cold gear while teaching me to yield to things I cannot change.
It’s odd at first, but this exercise is powerful. If you tried it yourself, how did you feel afterwards? I created this exercise because it not only reaps the physiological benefits of gratitude, it forces a shift in your perspective, allowing you to see the good in discomfort, pain, or annoyances.
In a way this exercise is the opposite of a complaint. When someone complains they seem to say, “This problem is making me suffer, and I should not have to suffer.” But the complainer doesn’t see that the belief “I shouldn’t suffer” is the root of all suffering. When you complain you are always making this assumption, and so drive yourself deeper with every outcry. This is why spiritual teachers say that all pain is an illusion. If you develop the right relationship with pain, in part by letting go of not wanting to suffer, it no longer limits you.
Some people live entire lives not knowing how to deal with pain. Or they only learn how to be at peace with certain kinds of pain. Many of my peers accept the task of getting a college degree but can’t handle getting up for class in the morning. They accept the struggle of applying for a job, but shy away from starting their own business. They push through reps at the gym but can’t push themselves to find better relationships.
We are taught to avoid discomfort at all costs without realizing that it profoundly shapes who we become. Think about how nervous your dad must have been when he first proposed to your mom—would you be here if hadn’t pushed himself to do that? Would you be here if your parents hadn’t made sacrifices to raise you? Pushing through pain isn’t just “weight training for life” as Anne Lamott says, it can make or break a fulfilling life.