Friday, November 28, 2014

Playing with pain

As we jostled our props into the convention center via a back-door bay, my partner, Renee, lit up at the energy level. It was invigorating I had learned when I attended the Victory of Light Psychic Expo a few years ago. Then, I volunteered to scout it out for my Quaker Meeting. We had been asked to join another Quaker congregation that had registered for a booth.

Those few years ago, I hadn't known what I was stumbling into: a marketplace of wellness, healers, seekers, vendors and readers of every ilk; diverse workshops from angels to death, past-life, mediumship and a service by Tibetan monks; and, eventually, a venue for some of my work. Astonishing. And also heartbreaking as my body absorbed the magnitude of those in pain and seeking relief alternatively.

Which is why I contacted the organizer, Victor Paruta, a well-known psychic whom I'd had the blessing of meeting years ago as a reporter, to ask if Renee and I could present "Pain as Spiritual Teacher." During that long-ago interview, it became quite obvious that I would have to put my objective self aside and seek a reading for authenticity's sake. How could I report about reading never having had one? It was profound, even more so when I recognized that Victor had also been an English major at Miami. Clearly, he has a gift ... not just for "reading" people, but for organizing such a powerful event, now in it's 20th year which attracts 4,000 people.

As presenters this time, we knew were were prop heavy, but that's part of our schtick. Dragging in the oversized basket and two stuffed, identifiable Ikea bags, I experienced an epiphany. "Renee," I called through the wind, "we need to rename our workshop ... we need to begin calling it a playshop!"

That is what we do: open folks to/by playing, so we begin to access possible meanings in our pain in a gentle way and from a different place in our brains. It increases our neuroplacticity, Renee says. I know that intuitively and from experience. Renee knows as a counselor with a science background ... which is why we are such a good pair.

Living with chronic pain, as 47 percent of American adults do according to Gallup, is enough work. We don't need more, yet we need space and a creative approach to understanding. A playground, that's what we create on the fly or in my studio. Inventing inviting spaces is one of my gifts and one I adore sharing.

As we looped through the back ways and into the exhibition hall, I heard Renee sigh. So did I, this was even bigger than a few years ago. "Can I tell you how wonderful this is that you go us here?" she asked. "Not a problem, it seemed like such a good fit and Victor said yes."

We lugged our baskets, bags and box as close we we could get to our room. There was a crowd gathered outside waiting for the next presentation. The halls were over-flowing. We wanted to get a lay of the land and calculate what we were up against in terms of room arrangement, how much time we'd have to get in and set-up, etc. It was a bit overwhelming, but we were stoked by the palpable level of energy. And the possibility that we'd have a nice-sized crowd. We'd optimistically prepared for 30.

As the crowds exchanged and things quieted in the hallway, we noticed Victor, and Renee wanted to meet him. Several people stepped up and he took time with each one. I wasn't certain I wanted to interrupt. So, we ran up to the exhibits to kill a little time. As soon as we entered, I spotted a dear friend.  Turns out, she was there for us! We ambled through the main and auxiliary halls, returning to our area and Victor was still there, conversing. I finally interjected and introduced Renee. He was so welcoming and anxious to tell Renee they have a mutual friend who is her biggest cheerleader.

Next, we decided where to trim our presentation by 10 minutes to accommodate the transition between presentations and waited. There was no swell in front of our door, but we knew a workshop (mind you, we hadn't had the insight to change the name yet) for those in chronic pain would not be a huge draw, although it should be.

The doors eventually opened, people streamed out and a festival staffer hoisted our wall of pain into the doorway as Renee and I quickly set up. As we began turning chairs around to form a circle, the seats filled. I noticed the anticipation as attenders didn't know what to expect. Their eyes beamed at the discovery of the props: looming, green Hulk hands; rocks in sand; orange pillows strangled by rope; a variety of squishy toys; blank Venetian masks; ribbon-enclosed boxes loaded with stuffing; a bin of jewels. As they would later learn, these would represent ways we handle our pain in survival mode.

We began a few minutes early and a few more streamed in; 25 people attended! We learned about how to play, we played, we took a body scan and rated ourselves on a pain scale of color, we embraced our pain giving it attributes such as color, shape and personality, we reflected on those in journals in any way we choose and we shared. That was a pretty full slate for 50 minutes and such a large group. Yet, I could see we had succeeded. One woman who said she could never relax to play, even as a child, found a medium to do so. Another recognized the child jumping up and down in her head clamoring for attention and two with a rare leg-pain disease connected.

We lingered in the hallway with participants, then loaded our cars. We returned, intending to visit the exhibition hall, but found ourselves struggling. As woman in chronic pain, we had extended ourselves a bit, but that's exactly the reason we can relate and reach others coping with chronic pain.

• When has the energy of a venue affected you?
• And when has something different spoken to you?
• How do you resonate with pain, personally?
• How can you be with others in pain?
• How do you play?

a life with
chronic pain
doesn't always
flow the way
one would wish

and management
take over just
to function


oddly enough
can open
that tightness
and rigidity
to new
our brains

and reminding
us that we
still count

Our next "Pain as Spiritual Teacher" event is Saturday, Feb 21 at Future Life Now in Northside. $20 off if you register by Dec. 1 Please share with anyone you know struggling with chronic pain. Thank you! tinyurl.com/painworkshop

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