Pain is such a relative, subjective term. I have two quotes hung in my office. One is:
I would see these words every day except that my office is a mess. Even if it were not a mess, they would eventually blend into the wall. This is what happens to all things we see every day, we quit seeing them. Unless something reminds us.
I am getting a little reminder right now. After minor gum surgery, I am in pain. I have been watching my relationship to this pain and my relationship to that relationship. If you could hear the thoughts in my head, you would think I knew nothing about transformation, self-care, holistic pain management and so on. I have a feeling I might be in the majority here, and there are always those few exemplary people out there who make we mere mortals, if we are unwise enough to compare ourselves, look like wimps.
I hurt, am nauseated, tired, don’t feel like doing anything. My face is swollen and I have to be very careful about how I eat so as to not disturb the graft. That is all. This will pass within a few days, and I will have a complete recovery. It is no big deal.
Now, let me tell you what is really going on. I feel like I am going to throw up, which has me practically hysterical inside. I am in a panic, emotionally. My mouth hurts and I don’t think it will ever stop. It shouldn’t be this way. What is wrong with me? The swelling was supposed to have gone down by now!
Should I call the doctor?! Hysterics kick in….
Then, “What is wrong with you, you loser?! Quit your bellyaching and make some lunch. Good lord! If there were ever anything really wrong with you, you may as well just call it a day. Get over yourself! There are people out there with real problems! You don’t deserve the time of day. You’re just using this as an excuse to be lazy, which you are!”
After this berating, I fall into complete despair. Now I have completely lost touch with reality. At first I blow it out of proportion, then, I refuse to validate a perfectly reasonable feeling. Pain.
The quotes in my office come to mind. I am in some pain. That is all. Yes, it hurts. No, I don’t have to do anything about it – nor do I have to blow it out of proportion. It is also not helpful, in fact is harmful, to compare my pain to that of another. This only results in more either exaggerating or minimizing and is not at all respectful of the person to whom I am comparing myself.
Watching my thoughts, attitudes, beliefs, and catching my misconceptions, has been quite an education.
All of these patterned ways of being are unconscious, until we take the time to look at them. Unconscious or not, these patterns mold our life substance and determine the creative forces from which we live.
I see the split in my emotional development right here; either I collapse into complete weakness or I overcome with mean aggression. Neither one of these strategies works, and the result is that I am left frustrated and a victim of my circumstances. So, what is the solution here?
I can tell you what it is not, which is to by-pass the pain using the already developed strategies. What most people do is to develop a “more mature” character to play the role of the person we think we should be.
She would sound something like, “Yeah, I had a gum graft, but it’s OK. I have friends who are really sick, so who am I to complain, I’ll be fine, it just hurts, that’s all.”
Meanwhile there is a voice inside screaming “HELP! I am hurting here! Why doesn’t anyone care about me?!” This voice I silence by changing the subject and making a show of being more interested in the other person so that I “look good.” All the while, the internal wailing goes on.
The real solution is to stop and be with whatever is there in reality – in the present. Yes, it does hurt. Ah, poor sweetheart. Let the tears flow, let the rage express itself, let the one who feels life is unjust scream her head off. Let the sobbing, wailing, stomping, kicking, hating life as it is right now, let it all be there.
Experience all of these fully in your body. Make no judgments and do not stuff anything down. It is vitally important, however, that you express these emotions with an adult part of you present as a witness to your own grief. Otherwise, these emotions can just take you over and you forget that this is just a part of you expressing itself.
Watch yourself allow the waves of various feelings simply go through you. Do not stop any of them unless it feels too overwhelming. If you pay close attention to yourself, each feeling will come and go, just like a wave on the beach. With each feeling, the invitation is to breathe deeply and allow, with curiosity, whatever comes.
If you catch particular thoughts, stop and question them with honest curiosity. Something like, “I just had the thought that something has to be wrong here or the swelling would have stopped by now.” If I just let my childish emotions take over here, I go into a panic. Using my adult consciousness, I can assess the situation and determine if there is actually cause for alarm or not. In this particular case, I really don’t know. This is another slippery slope. “I don’t know” brings up more panic. I remind myself that as a child, not knowing was dangerous, but today, this is no longer true. I stop, validate, soothe and reeducate the part of me that goes into panic when faced with not knowing.
Catching each and every thought, feeling, sensation, reaction, and, with interest, curiosity and compassion, performing a reality check, does take a tremendous commitment, and we all fail time and time again. This habit, however, once in place, gives us access to a deeper, wiser and more loving and caring part of ourselves. From this place, pain is just pain.
This is not something another person can just tell you. Had my loving partner reminded me that “we create our reality, and all pain is relative,” I would have given him some real pain to mull over.
This is an experiential learning. I have had those quotes in my office for years, and their meaning only got deeper today.
It is my intention to, bit by bit, organically and over time, catch each of the parts of myself that was not honored and respected over my 62 years. Our work is ours to do. There is no hurry because time, too, is relative. And, wouldn’t it be lovely to spend the rest of your life, fully alive and present to each and every gift of feeling that offers itself up to you, to be expressed through you.
There is pain and there is joy, just as there is life and death. These cannot be separated. The more we can be with pain and the eventuality of death, the more joy and life is available.