The Way of Pain
“No pain. No gain.” This is an entrenched belief amongst human beings the world over. It is a very deeply held belief that any gain in human functioning or freedom must come at a very great price and at a high cost in terms of pain and suffering, or even violence and bloodshed. We’ve even enshrined it in our economic system — to gain something you must part with something, called “trade-off” or “sacrifice”. Or reward and punishment. Other cultures also have their cult of pain, suffering, and sacrifice — circumcision or tooth-filing, for example. Pain is held to be a necessary concomitant to a gain.
None of that, though, is at all necessary, fundamentally. It is a “truth” only because we have made it so. Our very belief that pain is necessary to learning and change sets up the terms of our individual and collective existence in that way — the way of pain.
Nietzsche extolled pain and suffering. He wanted to see more of it, not because he was a sadist, but because he knew that human beings had chosen pain and the path of pain as their teacher, their “guru” as it were. I think he knew otherwise than that pain was necessary, but believed the way of pain was the way of self-overcoming — a necessary way of learning in the absence of any conscious effort at self-overcoming. Pain was the great incentive to self-overcoming, the corrective to the condition of “miserable ease” or complacency. The way of pain was the way of learning, and learning is the fundamental reason why we are here. And one of the things we are here to learn is that all that pain was, and is, quite unnecessary.
“What does not kill me makes me stronger”. The greater the pain, the greater the gain. Of course, that’s another of Nietzsche’s ironies. It’s just a restatement of the Christian practice of “long-suffering”, and even to welcome pain and suffering as redemptive, as “the way of the cross”.
But as long as human beings believe in pain (and they are more ready to believe in pain than in bliss) then it is by pain that they will learn. That’s what lies behind Nietzsche’s principle of amor fati — or love of fate. “It is so because I willed it thus”. I alone have set up the terms of my existence. I alone have decided to follow the path of pain as the way of learning, and despite the protests and objections of the consciousness attitude or ego nature. “The cure for the pain is in the pain”, writes Rumi, in much the same vein.
And as long as we, and we alone, have elected to follow the path of pain as the path of learning, then that is how we will learn until such time as we can finally dispense with Guru Pain.