Embracing Pain as a Friend

By Erica Sofrina, Speaker, Teacher and Author

“The time will come when with elation you will greet yourself arriving at your own door, in your own mirror and each will smile at the other’s welcome, and say, sit here. Eat. You will love again the stranger who was your self. Give wine, give bread, give back your heart to itself, to the stranger who has loved you all your life.”

In this illuminating message the poet Derek Walcott talks about the moment we arrive at our own door and welcome in the stranger that was once our self.

What brings us to this place of remembering who we are? Do we arrive there all at once, or do we arrive there, and forget, and arrive again and again, each time finding another piece of the puzzle that makes up the mysterious entity that we call ‘ourselves’?

I believe our lives are a journey of dismemberment in order to remember who we truly are.

Like Isis who searched the world over for the body parts of her beloved Osiris, I spent years journeying through life like an amnesiac, gathering piece after precious piece until I began to recognize a form taking shape.

These precious ‘rememberings’ often came after a period of intense emotional pain.

So I ask the question, is emotional pain a bad thing?

I remember a moment in time when I realized my divorce was inevitable. It was the right decision for me but the pain of the reality of the break up was so excruciating I didn’t think I could survive it.

A Zen master I heard speak talked about embracing pain as a friend. I frankly thought he was nuts. Why would we want to embrace something as horrific as that?

But I was intrigued. How could pain be good?

In the past I had stuffed my emotions and it had taken a terrible toll. This was when I was fifteen and my sister was tragically killed by a drunk driver. I refused to feel the emotions that I was sure would drown me.

As I stuffed them, they seemed to miraculously go away. I thought I was out of the water. I really thought I was the strong one in the family because I seemed to be getting through it quite well.  After a year I was sure that I had gotten off scot free. Then suddenly, whammo, it was as if I had suddenly been hit by a bus. Out of nowhere a wave of grief threatened to consume me and I was absolutely panicked as to what to do about it. This was not the era of therapy, at least not in my family, so I somehow survived on my own.  Everyone else around me was beginning the road to recovery, (such as it can be) and I was at ground zero, as if the incident had just happened. I got the lesson then that stuffing the pain was not going to be a successful game plan.

I was desperate to do it differently this time. I decided to go into the pain, what ever that meant. I wasn’t sure how to but envisioned my heart opening to it rather than closing.

It felt like I would die, but I let it roll in and through me, breathing into it like labor pains. Everything in me said to get out of there. To make it go away at all costs.

I found myself talking to my body as if it was a scared child.  What I mean by I is that something else seemed to be present that was separate from the pain. This part took  charge and  talked the scared child through it. It seemed to know that I would not die of the pain, although my body was not convinced, it seemed to trust the wiser self.

This went on for a while, my body simultaneously freaking out then being reassured by the wiser-self part.  I mainly remember feeling that this must be what it is like to die of a broken heart.

Then the most extraordinary thing happened. Everything stopped. And I saw my life.

I saw where I had been and where I was going. It was as if I had been climbing all my life to reach this exquisite summit. This place of absolute clarity.

I still felt excruciating pain, but it was juxtaposed with what I can only describe as excruciating joy.

I FELT my life fully. And in feeling it fully, I also SAW it fully.

In opening to the fullness of the pain, I was able to experience the fullness of it’s opposite – exquisite joy.

I saw that the thing I had spent my whole life avoiding actually held the keys to that which I had spent my whole life seeking.

Then I understood how pain was my friend. Friends often come bearing gifts. The gift it brought was to allow me to fully feel my life and in so doing fully feel all of life. It lasted for a brief exquisite moment, but it altered my perception forever.

Perhaps this is what the poet meant when he said: The time will come when with elation you will greet yourself arriving at your own door.

The way we find our way back to our own front door is to walk fully and bravely into life, all of life. The smaller the emotional range we allow ourselves, the smaller our lives are. They may feel safe, but they also feel dead. Like testing each piece of candy in a box of chocolates, we can’t separate out just the good ones.

We give our heart back to ourselves by daring to feel our lives fully. Each breaking of the heart taking us more deeply towards it.

I heard this once, but don’t know from where; ‘Each of us contains the paradox – that which may be our undoing – is the secret of our becoming.’

In daring to feel our lives fully, we embrace and ‘love the stranger who has loved us all our lives.’


Read the complete poem by Derek Wilcott:

Love After Love

The time will come
when, with elation
you will greet yourself arriving
at your own door, in your own mirror
and each will smile at the other’s welcome,

and say, sit here. Eat.
You will love again the stranger who was your self.
Give wine. Give bread. Give back your heart
to itself, to the stranger who has loved you

all your life, whom you ignored
for another, who knows you by heart.
Take down the love letters from the bookshelf,

the photographs, the desperate notes,
peel your own image from the mirror.
Sit. Feast on your life.


Your comments are always  welcome!


Erica Sofrina is a motivational speaker, teacher and author. She can be reached at www.ericasofrina.com



Jennifer C.
Past Member 6 years ago

Thanks for this great article.

Kirsten B.
Past Member 6 years ago

I wish I'd discovered Tolle's books 25 years ago. But then I know I wouldn't have been ready to take the information on. I had to go through a lot of pain before coming out the other end.
Day to day 'pain' is pretty easy to practice with and I hope I'll be ready the next time a 'real' pain comes along.

Rossy Osborne:
There is working through pain and working through pain. One is temporary numbing, the other is accepting, feeling, coming to terms with and letting go. Only the latter can bring you freedom and health.
I hope things get better for you each and every day.

Erica Sofrina
Erica Sofrina6 years ago

Thank you all for your thoughtful comments. It is a difficult subject and so hard to talk about because everyone's experiences are unique to them. Yes Rachel and Kirsten, Eckart Tolle's books about living in the now were transformational to me. Somehow we can get through what ever is thrown at us by being present in each moment and not resisting what ever emotion needs to come through the body. It is the resistance that causes the greater pain.

Rachel R.
Rachel R6 years ago

Makes me think of Ekart Tolle's A New Earth. I just finished reading it. I feel at the moment that I get glimpses, but then I fall even harder. The up is great but the violent swinging is exhuasting. Perhaps I'm missing something...

Judith Corrigan
Judith Corrigan6 years ago

Very thought provoking.Thank you.

Kirsten B.
Past Member 6 years ago

Wonderful piece.
Accepting the pain is the only way forward - accepting it, living it, letting it go. It is all too easy to become consumed by the pain and fear and miss the signposts to the exit along the way, but there is no avoiding it.
What you experienced seemed to be a personification of the living in the now, living in total awareness. Those moments are truly wonderful, but it takes work to keep them coming, to feel the incredible joy and love on the other side. I've had many flashes of them lately, but gone so fast that it takes a while to realize they were even there. But I'm learning to seize it - and it makes everything we confront in life so much easier, so much bearable - because there is the knowledge of the other side.
May sound weird, but there is lots of literature about it out there these days and the West is being introduced to what the East has known for thousands of years.

Lisa Spector
Lisa Spector6 years ago

Loved reading this, and like so much in life, just read it at the perfect time for me. I so needed this reminder right now....

I saw that the thing I had spent my whole life avoiding actually held the keys to that which I had spent my whole life seeking.

Thank you Erica!

Susan N.
Susan N6 years ago

Thanks for sharing, whenever we embrace our darker sides of us we come in contact w/our lighter sides. We become whole. So often we are taught to run away from these darker moments and sides of ourselves, they are labeled negative, bad, wrong, and therefore there is something wrong with us. When we can get in touch w/all sides of who we are, we become whole and complete. Great post.

KATE L6 years ago

I love this article and I love this poem.
Everything shows up at the right time always for me.
Thankyou so much for sharing x

Deborah C.
Deborah Cays6 years ago

Thank you for this poem, it is so beautiful.