Friday, January 24, 2014

Pain as teacher

Reactions when I suggest that pain can be a teacher have surprised me. They range from shrugs, topic-switching and a general politeness in tucking this subject away. Except by those who know.

So it was delightful that a small group to which I belong actually asked for more information. Experiencing pain became one of our discussion points that evening. We begin our sessions by catching each other up on our lives since last month, often connecting it to the archetypal astrology we are here to study. Almost magically, whatever has collectively been on our hearts has woven its way into our sage instructor's lesson, before we even knew. One soul shared her frustration at major obstacles, yet retained a calm detachment. Another currently feels overwhelmed by life. One actually has opening pain in her chest. The other three of us were not currently in those places, but we have been. We heard each other's pain. Better yet, those in pain seem to be letting it in and learning its lessons.

This group's honesty and integrity provides great comfort and confidence with regard to a new workshop, Pain as Spiritual Teacher,  I am so excited about hosting with a longtime friend and very trusted healer. When I proposed it several months ago, she didn't flinch. "Of course I'll do it with you; what took you so long to ask?" she replied to my request. What makes this so authentic, I believe, is that we have both struggled for years with chronic pain. We're combining my spiritual nurture and creativity with her yoga therapy and counseling background. 

Pain has been the subject of some of my writing, here, and in other venues. I'd like to share portions new to this blog. They are personal and MY journey, so I don't expect them to speak to everyone. Sharing these experience can empower healing and awareness in others, which is why I feel called to do so:

Truthfully, pain has been a catalyst in my life: an agent of change, bridging one stage to another. The one before fibro and the one after. The one before awakening and the one awakened. The one fighting myself and the one learning to surrender. The one mesmerized by cultural mandates and the one living from my heart. The false self and the real self. The me-centered life and the God-centered life. Striving for unattainable perfection and embracing my flawedness. Pretending to be strong and showing my weakness. Wearing masks and shedding them.
When pain came calling at my door, I had no choice but to let it in. It preyed on every weakness, wore me down and I gave it utter control. I succumbed to its charms and let it define me. My ego was a mess. I believe it gave into what it thought was stronger. It told me I was nothing and, along with the pain, took charge.
I see now it was not acting in my best interest, but its own. 
Too long I had listened to the world’s warped idea that we are immune to pain and … if you experienced it you are weak, unworthy or not one of the annointed.  I bought the cultural promise of ease, health and wealth. So, when pain struck, I was defenseless. 
For all intents and purposes, my projected self curled up and died, my ego going through the motions and pretending. I was a pretty good actress. Besides, who really wants to recognize another’s pain? Means you’d have to own yours first.
Fighting it or letting it rule me were not the answers I was seeking. Befriending it was. Looking at it as having a message changed my perspective, helped me open to that wisdom and surrender the situation to God instead of (mis)managing it myself. 
Oh, but I fought the work of exposing my wounds. They were piled so heavily, imbedding my core self even more deeply. Creativity rescued me by expressing, exposing and accepting my wounds in a manner I could comprehend, even embrace.
I gained a new awareness, though I walked one step at a time. I was not ready for more. I write this now with the perspective and insight of distance.
God gave me the courage to shine the flashlight of Truth into the most locked parts of myself: the places sealed off since childhood that the pain tapped. A willing, but tepid traveler, I was astonished to witness that the inaccessible parts were not ugly and dangerous, just trapped inner children given no light, nurture or encouragement to mature. With exposure, they blossomed and were able to tell me what they needed. Some of them I have parented into adulthood. Others till need tending and room to grow. 
As God and I chiseled away at these layers, I could loosen my grip on the false self, which had been a response to injury. That injury had become my inner jury and judge. I let it tell myself I was less-than and unworthy. 
As God helped me excavate, I began to see myself again as the unharmed pure one I knew so well in childhood, untainted by wounds. This innocent had been surrounded, crowded and choked out by all of the injured still nursing their wounds and in paralysis: a state of shock, incapable of moving or growth. Until God released them, me.
I experience pain, but, with God’s grace and wisdom, don’t let it define, freeze or trap me. I now know to look for its message: to what am I not paying attention that I should. 
Inevitably, there’s a sacred lesson, for pain is teacher.

• What is my reaction to pain?
• What is my experience of pain?
• How does that idea that it has lessons to teach resonate in me? 
• What might those lessons be?
• How can sharing my experience possibly open others?

Pain as Spiritual Teacher will be offered at two Cincinnati locations in March and April. The first in a series, we are planning three others. For more information, please visit: https://www.facebook.com/events/1424900054406234/

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