My sister needed a root canal and said, ‘while i was in pain, i kept trying to do what you do- find the gift in it- and it sucked and i couldn’t find it.’
let me be clear: that’s not what i do.
During pain, I breathe and with my exhalation, try to release resistance to the pain. I use the breath to explore the pain on the inhale (what size/shape/gravity/nature) and melt around it on the exhale. Sometimes I can do this for 1/2 hour. sometimes I can only do it for a couple of breaths. More than once, the pain has gotten so intense I’ve passed out (which actually was welcome because sleep is difficult when in pain). Noticing the pain, releasing resistance, trying to come to equanimity. I use the breath and whatever practices I can remember (like inviting pain to sit on the porch with me and watch the sunset) to be present to the experience of the pain. Sometimes, I just have to take some medicine and sleep (I’ve found 30mg of CBD puts me out reliably). What’s for sure is it slows me down, and I no longer begrudge it the time. My orientation is: My body must be needing something and this is the only way it can get it. OK, I’ll play along. Releasing mental resistence=step one.
The gift I’ve found through pain isn’t in the pain itself. The gift has been in what the experience of pain has done for my life, and does for my life. Deciding not to try to avoid or get away from pain, pain mandates present moment awareness, and sustained present moment awareness at that – even if it’s hard and unpleasant. That present moment awareness lets me look my kids in the eyes to see what they’re really asking – I am convinced I would have given mostly cursory attention and perfunctory answers to most of my kids’ questions had I continued on the path I was careening down prior to pain. I have a thousand examples of something I would’ve zoomed by, I now hold and appreciate and respond to. That’s the gift of pain. It changed the quality of my attention.
Within the moments of pain, sometimes I imagine the pain telling me its origin story. I try to just release resistance – to the story, to the sensation, to anything that’s not pure space. Most of the time I just let pain let me get quiet. This week, it’s been working intensely on my walking. I am sort of a comedy show to watch – extremely slow, but when I go slower than a snail, I am more aware of the shifting of my weight, the orientation of my legs and knees, the drop in my sacrum. I have always been awkward in my body to some degree. I feel this particular bout of pain is going in and correcting some essential habits I developed to work around all of the tension of various unprocessed traumas. I use pain to learn deeper and deeper ways of relaxing. that has nice implications in my pain-free times, too.
So, it’s not so much that i find a gift in the pain – it’s more that by releasing my resistance to pain in general and learning how to be present, many gifts have unfolded in the foundation of my life and my interactions with others and with life itself. I let pain set the pace of my life – a pace I never would have chosen nor been convinced to embrace, and that pace has transformed me. Do I miss my old pace? Sometimes. But, I also see the constant ‘chasing’ i was doing, and i don’t miss that at all. And through this new pace, I’m able to see the chasing i still do, which brings it into choice, which lets me make a new decision. I never would’ve seen it at my old pace. So, this is another aspect of the gift.
But, I don’t sit enjoying pain. By exploring it, sometimes I can achieve a few breaths or a few moments of equanimity. Sometimes, though, most of my experience is enduring the pain. This last bout, I’ve been practicing Radical Rest where I say, “I am relaxing for my knee” and trying to relax my whole body in honor of the painful knee. I found it super interesting. This is how I occupy myself with pain. I’m a far cry from plucking daisies within it…