Friday, October 24, 2014

Pain and the light of compassion

Pain as spiritual teacher is a concept I have been exploring for a number of years. I was introduced to the idea of pain holding a sacred message by Quaker healer John Calvi and was riveted by its truth.

More recently, I have been co-creating and leading a series of workshops on the topic with a trusted friend and healer. We both have lived with chronic pain and I had thought of her over the years. When I finally approached her about a year-and-a-half ago, she said "I was wondering when you'd ask." We have spent those 18 months plotting, planning, researching and devising such a strong mix of our skills, experience and gifts. We know this is right, but we have yet to reach the right audience. We've been seeking those in chronic pain ready to take a deeper approach. Typically that doesn't happen until you've exhausted traditional avenues.

So now, we're questioning everything. Should we omit the world spiritual? Is the idea of linking pain and anger just too much for people? Where can we go directly to those in pain? Should we find a compatible sponsor to pay for those attending and in pain.

In this mode, Renee suggested we explain what we're doing as if to a second grader. "Oh you mean an elevator speech of sorts?" I asked. "No, not to adults, but at a kids' level."

And I have been toying with that, getting at the root of what we do. It's been an interesting journey that's heading somewhere like this:

Pain as Spiritual Teacher is a series of workshops where people talk, play, create, share and think about the meaning of the pain in their life. The point is that pain always has a reason for showing up, but we’re too busy trying to cover it up to listen or recognize this.

Two people who live with pain want to help others in pain discover what they have: there is a spiritual side to living with constant pain that helps us manage our lives better. By doing exactly the opposite of what our culture tells us to do, which is run from or numb the pain, we can listen to the pain, learn its language and decipher its message. This gives us power and control and opens us from the tightness and isolation of ignoring or fighting pain.

We want to dive into the psychological side to find the silver lining. If we can find meaning, or a new direction or perspective, we can be more accepting of our condition and closer to peacefulness. When we deny our pain, we add to our suffering. When we understand it, we lessen our suffering. When we employ compassion, we make great leaps away from suffering.

That still sounded too adult, so I went deeper and simpler:

Our world teaches us to run away from pain.

If you have a headache, you take an aspirin.
If you’re bleeding, you get a band-aid.
If you have the flu, you get medicine.

We learn to take or do things to hide the pain. Some people live with constant pain that does not go away with an aspirin, band-aid or medicine. Sometimes they try riskier things to make it go away. Sometimes doctors will tell them there is nothing else to do or that the pain is imaginary. It is not. Pain is supposed to tell us something, a signal from the brain that something is wrong or not working in our body. If we cover it up and don’t listen, how are we supposed to know what it is telling us?

Two women became friends because of their pain and helped each other learn to listen. They still have pain, but they understand better.

Here's what my pain says to me:
• You’ve overdone it
• You’re not doing things for the right reason
• You are fighting yourself
• You need to be who you are, not who you think you should be
• You are beautiful as you are
• You are not your pain
• You are loved regardless
• You have life and a purpose

That may sound as if it has nothing to do with physical pain, but as webmd.com pointed out "when chronic pain sets in, your life shrinks to fit your pain." Self compassion often gets cut out.

So easily, we can fall into letting our pain define us. I find that less true if I meet it head on and really look at what it is signaling. Some of the fighting yourself stems from the comparison to who I was before the pain, what I could do then and how I am limited now. So much of that is unconscious.

What we're really striving to do is help people become aware of unconscious messages in a playful, safe manner and, most importantly, in community. Pain does isolate. An understanding community is crucial to managing chronic pain. So many of us quit talking about it to our families and friends because we feel like a broken record that no one listens because they do not share this experience. We bury it deep and try to suck it up and move on, which really causes suffering.

This work excites both of us and we are open to ideas for what to do with what we feel we have been given. Prayers, of course, are always welcome.

• What is my experience of pain?
• How do I handle it?
• Have I ever listened to it?
• What response have I received from others?
• What could it be like to find a community that listens, understand and helps me move forward?

we are bodily creatures
and want to experience
pleasure, not pain

so when it persists,
we really have
no roadmap

except numbness
and denial

pushing any
meaning as
deep as possible

in the darkness
it festers

but if we
shine the light
of compassion

we open
to Truth and
much less suffering

Listen to this post:

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