I’ve been in a hard time lately – nothing alarming, just the kind of hard time that life brings all of us.

In a recent moment, when I was thinking about what was so hard and what I could do about it, I remembered something I wrote eight years ago, something I hadn’t thought about for a long time.

I had written this: the amount of pain I experience is directly proportional to the amount I’m out of alignment with my soul.

(And I’m talking emotional pain here, not physical.)

When I first wrote this idea down, hearing it from somewhere inside me, I wondered, could that really be true? Didn’t pain happen simply because life is full of challenge and suffering and injustice, or because really bad things sometimes happen to us? Couldn’t pain just have to do with our emotional lives but really have nothing to do with the soul?

Yet when I inquire into my own pain, and work with others around theirs, I find that with pain, there is also often some soul starvation, some soul violation or denial that is at the root of the pain.

Our souls long for freedom, and oppression pains our souls.
Our souls are meant for love, and animosity and hatred pains our souls.
Our souls are meant to be treated with reverence and care, and callousness pains our souls.
When our soul doesn’t get what it needs, we feel pain.

What I find to be the miracle in this way of working with pain is that it means our pain doesn’t only teach us about the shadow side of life.

If we let it, our pain can always teach us about the light, our own inner light. Pain is always a little arrow pointing you to some unmet need of your soul. Your pain will point you to some part of your divinity that is being strangled or stamped on – by yourself or by others.

Pain can always lead you there, if you follow it to that discovery.

In my own life,
the pain of isolation tells me about the connection my soul is meant for
the pain of exhaustion and overwork tells me about the vitality and balance my soul is meant for
the pain of experiences of harassment, objectification, and abuse tell me about the free and joyful sensuality my soul is meant for

And what the soul needs, the soul is. The soul needs love and is the energy of love. The soul needs creativity and is the force of creativity. The soul needs compassion and is the spirit of compassion. So your pain not only tells you what your soul needs, it tells you what your soul is. And that tells you about what the holiest part of you is.

And so, in pain, we can ask:

What part of my soul got hurt here?
What need of soul was denied or ignored?

And as we choose where to devote our time and energies, we must keep asking:

Where is the misalignment between my life and the longings of my soul?
Where is the misalignment between our society and the needs of its members’ souls?
What can I do – small things or big things – to bring about more alignment between life and soul?