No one wants pain. Most of us avoid it, get angry because it’s there, become depressed when it won’t go away. What if we can make pain our advocate? What if our pain can help us improve our lives?
At the moment I’m sitting here with a severe aching pain in my heel. It’s flared up off and on over the years and I’m not sure I’ve gotten the message. If I listen, my aches and pains can tell me things, both shockingly clear and brutally truthful: “Walk lighter, lose 10 pounds, stand lighter, carry less, rest more, get new shoes, get more massages, see your physical therapist, do the exercises she gave you years ago!”
I have heard so many excuses, from myself, to not do exactly what I should do to relieve my pain. Sound familiar?
So what is pain really?
Pain, in the physical sense, is a signal from your nervous system. A chemical process is happening in your body, one of the countless numbers of such processes happening inside your body every moment of the day, which causes a particular string of neurons to fire. The problem is that this electric, chemical, physiological message is direct, and immediate, but often goes unheard and unacknowledged. The ability to really hear, become aware of the pain, is lost in the stress of everyday life. The problem remains, but over time you become numbed to the signal: blood flow is constricted, pain is lessened, as your body helps to keep you going, to serve your need to push through each day. Numbness is a great coping mechanism for the short term. But in the long term, it becomes debilitating.
Pain messages don’t go away, they just go underground; they settle deeper into the system and begin to block the healthy flow of blood, nutrients, and life energy. As a massage therapist and energy worker, I often work with clients who discover on my table the pain that has gone underground. They are shocked at what happens when they finally slow down, and let themselves acknowledge their body for an hour or more.
This is what I’m experiencing now. This pain has been underground for a while. But for the last few days I have worn the wrong pair of shoes. Now I am unable to walk. So now, I have to listen.
My foot, your shoulders, your mother’s hips, it’s all the same process. Like when your back “goes out.” The musculature surrounding your spine makes endless shifts and adjustments to help us through our day. As you ignore what these muscles need, the pressures compound, until you are doing something that seems so ordinary—bending to pick up one of your kid’s toys, or twisting to grab something in the cabinet, and whammo! You’ve found the straw that breaks the camel’s back. It is an apt metaphor.
“With pain as my advocate I shall not hurt.” This phrase has been repeating in my head while I’ve been contemplating this article.
The first part of this phase comes from my teacher, Ellen Krueger. During a session a few years ago, as she was counseling and using Polarity Therapy to help me through chronic hip pain, she said, “Let the pain be your advocate.” The phrase hit me like a lightning bolt. I realized in that moment that my life and my work were causing this deep, debilitating pain. I knew I had to quit my demanding spa job and focus on my own practice. Otherwise I soon wouldn’t be able to work at all.
“I shall not hurt.” What is the difference between pain and hurt? My heel is in pain but my soul is hurting. I am hindered by this pain, I can’t do what I’d like to and that hurts. I feel sad, angry and frustrated. This makes it harder to relax and tune in and listen to what may be a difficult truth. I just want the pain to go away so I can get on with my life. What a subtle violence this attitude does to my body. I want to keep going even though my body is sending the message to stop. I can’t stop: I’ve got clients to care for, my mouth to feed, rent to pay. I have no safety net in which I just lay down for a month and heal. So healing takes longer, a lot more awareness and support.
The pain in my heel says that my body needs attention. The pain in my heel says that there is a deeper hurt inside of me.
The hurt is not my body’s fault, it is not my heel’s fault. Once I take full responsibility for the pain, I can begin to make choices. I can find the practitioners that I know will help me. I will work to release the physical tension and the mental blocks; I will acknowledge the patterns that lead to this particular pain and begin to heal the hurt.
Can I then take the next step? Can I love and embrace the wisdom of my body? My body knows a lot more than I give it credit. It deals and copes with and achieves so much more than I can ever imagine, so much more than I am even aware of. It is my temple. It is the house through which my soul can achieve its existence, can express its essence and light. Why do I keep battering and polluting my temple?
When I do step up, when I take care and get help, I am amazed at how quickly my body temple responds. I let go, and my body says, “Let’s go.” My body carries no hard feelings. My body is always ready to be better. My body seems to have an unconditional love for my soul; that love brings me to tears. I don’t know what else to say except thank you to my painful heel for inspiring me.
I hope you can find some inspiration in your pain, wherever it is. Let your pain be your advocate and I hope you are relieved from your hurt in the process.
"These pains that you feel are messengers. Listen to them. Turn them to sweetness." —Rumi
There are many ways to embark on the journey to and through your pain. Here is one way to begin, with a simple meditation. I suggest trying this with an area of chronic familiar pain, rather than with acute pain, which may require medical or professional support.
Sit or lie down in a comfortable position. Place pillows anywhere you need to feel your body completely relaxed and at ease.
Begin by noticing your breath; follow its flow in and out of your body.
Allow your mind to become aware of the area of pain that you are curious about.
Notice the size and shape of the pain. Does it have a color or texture? Has your breathing changed as you started to notice it?
As you begin to meet your area of pain, let your focus become soft and receptive, as if you were sitting down to listen to a child tell their story.
Notice what comes to mind as you remain here, receptive to your pain. Allow anything that comes to you be the message. Don’t edit or push anything away in this time.
Stay as long as you feel is right.
Take a deep breath, thank your pain, be gentle with yourself as you begin to come back.
Journal or call a friend to share your experience; this will help acknowledge the message.