The Way Out of Pain is to Veer Into It
Ouch! Pain is no picnic and most people would do most anything to make it stop. As I write this, I am debating whether to take a pill to lessen a brewing headache. We may not be able to control whether we experience physical pain or not, however suffering, believe it or not, can be optional. When we are injured, there is the physical reaction to the injury and our emotions and thoughts about the injury. Much of the suffering comes from the experience of thinking we want to be experiencing something other than what we are experiencing. A shift in perspective can go a long way towards minimizing how we experience the pain. The way out of pain is not by rejecting the experience. Ironically, the way out of pain is by veering into it. Pain is information When our brain floods our body with pain chemistry, it is not punishment, it’s because it’s letting us know something needs our attention–the level of intensity increases with the level of urgency. That pain is informing us of something, whether it’s “hey, you just burned your finger, it might need some burn cream,” or, “that horrible stabbing sensation under the ribs, yeah that’s your gall bladder. Maybe what you’re eating is not for you?” Rather than immediately turning away from the pain or getting emotional in a “why me?” kind of way, take a step back and think of the pain as simply a body sensation, simply helpful information. That information can be a valuable gift because it can be the catalyst for change, sometimes even major life changes. Often people who shift the trajectory of their life for the better, if you ask them, the trigger was a painful experience. Be the witness I once was trying to open a bottle of avocado oil by stabbing it with a knife (stupid, I know), and managed to slice my hand open. I saw the cut, felt my eyes tear up and my body start to shake and go into shock, but on the inside, there was no negative sensation–it was like I was watching my body from some other place. When we take a mental step back from the experience of pain and witness it, it immediately pulls us out of victim mode and lets us observe and pick up on what our body is trying to tell us. Those who are on a spiritual path are often consciously placing their awareness on the witness of thoughts because that witness is our Big Self. Pain gives us the opportunity to really feel the contrast of our inner witness and the body and thereby help us to realize “who I am is not a body.” Meditation helps With consistent meditation, this process of being the witness happens automatically, without conscious effort–like with the situation with the avocado oil, the witnessing just happened. That is because as we meditate, our consciousness dips over and over again into the ocean of self until it identifies with that ocean, the seat of your awareness is now centered in that inner witness at all times. For someone on the path to enlightenment, that awareness is so big, when a physical pain sensation occurs, that sensation is such a small percentage of the awareness of that person, it’s like a drop in an ocean. Attention is healing One of our immediate reactions to pain is to distract ourselves from it. While this can help minimize pain in a way, going the other way is even more beneficial. Next time you have physical pain, put your attention towards the area of injury not away from it. Really experience the sensation in your simplest form of awareness without judgement, the suffering of it will subside. Also, where our mind goes, our body follows, so our attention brings healing energy and blood to the area. Breathe through the pain Any woman who has been through labor knows the link between pain and breath. If pain is a wave, then breath is your surfboard. Without it, the pain can toss you about, but with breath, you can get above it and even ride it. Next time you’re hurting, try a box breath, in which you breathe in, hold, breath out, and hold for the same time, around 8 seconds or so. Emotional pain is physical too Many people dismiss emotional pain as just in your head. “Get over it” or “Snap out of it,” almost everyone has heard phrases like this when going through emotional distress, though it’s rare to hear someone say these things to someone who just broke their arm. The truth is, emotional pain is felt in the body as well. For example, a recent study showed that the brain sent out the same chemistry after the participants felt rejection as it would for a physical injury. So ignore anyone (including yourself) who tries to dismiss your pain whatever the source. Pain and empathy Wounds are gateways for connection. No matter what kind of pain you may be experiencing, it can be a foundation for relating to someone else who may be going through the same thing. After my mother passed away, I never knew such pain. However, I soon found that I could relate with others who had lost loved ones, or experienced another intense kind of pain, in a way I didn’t even know I wasn’t able to before. This, knowing my pain may help someone at some point, to me is the most powerful pain-killer of all.
Delphine feeling her feelings.