Monday, September 14, 2009
Purpose and Pain
On Saturday, I rowed in the first annual Hudson River Challenge, a 25 kilometer race from the George Washington Bridge to the Tappan Zee Bridge. See the previous blog for more details. We rowed in an "octuple," an eight person sculling shell (each person having 2 oars). The photo above by our coxswain, Alex, shows our octuple rowing up the Hudson in the rain and fog.
It took us a little over 2 hours of continual rowing to cover these 15+ miles. The longest I had ever rowed continuously before this was an hour and 15 minutes (on a rowing machine). So, it was a looooonnnnnggggg row! Our crew of four women and four men did themselves proud by finishing first in the "eights" category and fourth overall. We received a nice piece of driftwood for our first place finish.
The row took us by the Palisades Park in New Jersey, a stunning series of cliffs along the Hudson. I enjoyed these magnificent views by stealing a few glances as we were rowing. The photo on the right of the Palisades and Hudson River is from "Point Lookout," the highest point in the park, by Anthony Taranto, Jr.
However, this row wasn't all beautiful scenery nor was it easy paddling! About halfway through the race, I got a cramp in my left gluteus maximus (butt cheek), which made the last hour very painful. Since then I've had some time to reflect on dealing with pain.
How we cope with the pain that comes into our lives has a great deal to do whether we feel happy, content or fulfilled. If our pain eclipses everything else, then happiness seems elusive and even impossible. Yet, if we can face our pain head-on and deal with it, new possibilities for fulfillment can emerge.
One of the most dehumanizing aspects of pain and suffering is it can make us feel helpless and powerless. We can easily see ourselves as victims with little control or power to cope. I believe that a spiritual approach to dealing with pain can help us find power and purpose in our suffering.
A spiritual approach involves: (1) acknowledging that pain is an inevitable part of being alive, (2) facing our pain instead of running away from it, (3) learning the lessons that pain might be able to teach us, (4) discovering the inner strength to cope with pain, (5) being willing to journey with others in discovering power and even purpose in pain and suffering.
Regarding this last point, I journeyed with my fellow rowers, most of whom were also struggling with various pains. In a way, rowing in this grueling race created a fellowship of suffering and provided a close bond between us. We all rowed through our pain and finished the race. We were even able to do a communal pirate yell "Arrrrgh!" near the finish line.
The lessons I learned on Saturday were (1) that my pain didn't need to ruin the thrill of rowing on a beautiful river, and (2) that pain can be overcome by striving toward a goal-- the finish line in this case. The challenge is to apply these lessons to the wide variety of pains we will experience in life.