The Cause of All Your Pain

Every once in awhile a message from some unknown source comes to me. This one appeared in a dream, one strong enough to wake me up, almost with a gasp. The dream narrative itself is muddled. All I can recall of it is that at the end some powerful presence seemed to come near me. It “read” me, and then said this: “The cause of all your pain is unused potential.”

That was it.

I lay awake for a few moments still listening to the words. It seemed at first too simple. And yet there was also a resonance that could not be put aside. And it has made me want to go look at my potentials, whatever they might be, just to see if I can draw the connections with pain. There’s something there, without a doubt. Perhaps because I believe in potentials so much and have always been a believer in the work to go beyond my own known edges.

I was talking today with a colleague about the dream and he asked me, “Well, what are you going to do about it?” And I replied rather automatically “I don’t know. The dream is only a month old!” And so it is. Only a month old. Maybe the dream of an infant. Maybe the dream of an old man for whom a month is nothing. Maybe it’s just a shadow, a blackbird.

Have I been at fault for not doing more? Is that the pain? Were there paths I should have taken and chose not to take because it kept me safe or comfortable or ignorant? The shadows gather into a skein of dark threads, a jumble it has become my obligation to sort out and somehow weave into a lighter cloth. Is this merely a dream about the unfulfilled expectations that I have placed on myself?

Farmacia de Dios

The questions come, but also, and this is a surprise, a sense of equanimity. So that was what the pain was for, to remind me of who I could be, whether or not I chose to live it in that moment. I believe it was Marie Louise von Franz who said that we do much better bearing our sufferings if we know why we have them. It is when we don’t yet know that they are unbearable to us.

So perhaps, for now, that is enough. That presence, that being, whatever it was that came close to me, gave me the reason for pain in a way I might be able to understand it and to connect it to all my work and to my life in this world.

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  • Thanks for sharing this Dan. It will resonate with many of us. Greg

  • Thanks for posting this, Dan – those words really resonate with me. Potential is such an intangible thing – well, not a ‘thing’ at all; a construct in our heads, or of our spirits. Some days it seems so real, a force inside bursting to escape; others it seems like mere vanity. The notion of unfulfilled potential is something that nags at me all the time, and gets more insistent as I get older, and feel more and more that the opportunities for fulfillment are diminishing. But what trips me up, I think, is my habit of thinking of potential as something to be fulfilled in the future. No matter whether that’s a year away or a day away, it’s always the future. But of course, the only place for potential to become reality is in the present moment. Easy to say, but I know I have yet to apply that lesson!

  • Andy, thanks for dropping by. I absolutely love what you’ve written here. It’s a great reminder that potentials shunted to the future can simply become wishes and longings, instead of new action and presence. For potential to be actualized in the present moment, I believe there must be really great faith, a vision, a potent feeling, a preferred role maybe (writer, singer, leader, shaman…) that gives shape to the raw stuff of possibility. It also makes sense to ask the hard questions about what we have done to stand in the way of allowing that flow and radiance to express itself through us. I know for myself that I can be trapped in disbelief, but when I put my ego considerations and critiques aside and allow myself to be the channel, then it happens, and there is fulfillment, happiness, and impact.

  • Dan …

    Outside of dreams that jar you awake, I hope all is going well.

    A couple of thoughts …

    1 – Think about it this way … all potential is unused. So maybe the pain your dream alludes to is about the weight of all that we do not do; about thinking we should do the impossible when we are in fact doing all that is possible (somewhat of a conundrum in that if it is potential we never will get to it … an endless do loop).

    I like the other comment about being in the present. The pain could be about being elsewhere when you (we) should be here, now.

    Maybe I could state it as avoid the pain by not striving, struggling for something that cannot be had.

    2 – I remember a friend and I talking about a job prospect long ago. I said I thought it had potential and he remarked along the lines that everything thing had potential … alluding to his seeking to avoid the “grass is greener over there” effect that ultimately he might regret. Potential always looks good on paper; reality may differ.

    To sum up … don’t strive for what cannot be had and what you have done in the moment is in reality a great deal.

    Best of luck on sorting this out.

  • Great advice, Dean. Thanks.

    Yes, there does seem to be a thing about being emotionally hijacked by apparent potentials. As a friend of mine used to say, the three saddest words in the English language are might have been. It’s easy to get hooked there and keep running after something that doesn’t exist.

    I’ve continued to reflect on the voice in my dream, which your comments and Andy’s are greatly helping me do. I would say now that the underlying message also seemed to contain an affirmation; that the “unused potential” is something good, something waiting, something for me, or on my side at least. The pain is the result of disbelief. The sense of the message is closer to “The cause of all your pain is your own unused gold.” And I have had some strong feelings lately about what that gold might be….

    Thanks for writing, Dean. It’s always a pleasure to hear from you.

  • Dan – thank you for provoking this dialogue that hits home so strongly to us commenters. For me, I experience unused potential when I “play small.” It’s an immediate reaction within me that leaves me sad.

    What I have noticed lately about myself is how I am “showing up.” It has helped me to create win-win’s on a more consistent basis in the business I am in. Part of it is learning to stay in the present, as Dean mentions in his comment that all potential lies in the present. I find it more manageable to use “potential” in minute by minute chunks. Delving into what might happen in the future doesn’t appeal to me as much. This is a newer way for me to relate to the world – simply by spending more time in the present!

  • Deb

    “Showing up” is a great way to say it — this use of the “unused gold.” I must say, your spirit must be with me right now, for in the last moments as I began writing this response to your comment three deer have decided to stand right outside my office window munching on the new green leaves of shrubs and young maples. Now I live in quite an urban area in an apartment of eighty units or so with very busy streets nearby, so for the deer to wonder by…well, it’s a sign don’t you think? They did, after all, show up just as your comment about showing up showed up on my computer!

  • Thank you, Greg!

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