For all the advancements I have made in my life towards happiness and away from misery, I have not discovered how to cure my own pain…until now. Deep inside I believed that my pain was permanent, lifelong and incurable, and yet I equally believed that any ailment can be cured but mine. It was a curious, bipolar reality.
As many spiritual teachers as I have read and listened to, I’ve never found one who I felt fully explained physical pain enough to sufficiently help me understand it. They say that physical pain is resistance; letting go and going with the flow can end pain, and fighting it and hiding from it only cause it to continue. But during a severe migraine or pinched nerve those become words and nothing more; fleeting concepts crushed beneath the weight of my experience.
My pain is severe and chronic. A major part of my life has been spent working a man’s job that my female body was not able to do. To make matters worse I refused to do my job with any sort of ergonomic common sense. All my life I have fought to prove that I am every bit as capable as a man, so I did things that I should not do in order to show the world that I could. Sure, I kept up with the men I worked with and for, but after 10 years I found my body was falling apart. Now I find the smallest effort causes the greatest pain as my spine attempts to fuse itself together causing pinched nerves, migraines and other severe issues.
Earlier in my career as a cripple the pain would cause me to pass out, but over the years I have become used to it enough that I stay awake for the entire process. I am basically trapped in the prison of my body. The pain is sheer torture, often feeling as if there is an axe stuck in my neck or a knife piercing my back or eyes. No medicine will cure it, yet I over~compensate with caffeine and ibuprofen. Episodes can last all day or several days. I cannot find a comfortable position to lay in nor can I sit up. I can’t sleep but can’t stand being awake. I am off work and unable to do anything but lay in bed and wish I was dead. Often, that is exactly what I think to myself during the pain.
I am not the only one my ailments affect. My Other stops whatever he is doing to tend to my every need. He massages me, cooks for me, brings me medicine and holds my hair back when I throw up. He even cleans up afterwards, much to my chagrin. Often I escape by watching movies on Netflix. He will waste an entire day by my side watching movies if it takes my mind off of the pain. This causes me to feel guilt as he endures watching me suffer but is helpless to do anything about it.
Now that I have returned to school in attempts to get out of the business I am in, I find that sitting in chairs all day during classes further exacerbates my problem. I miss many days of class because of my pain and feel that I am involved in a conundrum; trapped between not being able to sit in the chairs at school but not able return to the working world full~time. Sitting at a desk at home to do homework can often lead to falling days behind. It all feels so hopeless.
The universe is not a concrete, permanent sort of place. No law is set in stone. I have cured mental ailments and physical addictions, issues that many people struggle with their entire lives, but when it comes to physical pain I am helpless.
I listen to many spiritual teachers on Youtube, any and all I can find. Often their knowledge can raise me to a state of bliss enough that I can make it through the day. My sister recently introduced me to Eckhardt Tolle, whose name I have heard for years but have never really come to know. Mr. Tolle’s main message is that of what he calls Presence, to be here, now, at all moments, thoughtless and empty but for the joy of being alive. I’ve begun listening to him more and more. His advice really helps me extract myself from the thoughts that threaten to take my mind away from the moment.
Recently I came across a couple of his videos that stopped me in my tracks. Eckhardt actually explains how to get rid of pain, though I’ve not been sure that I could do what he was asking. Basically, he describes pain like an entity that feeds off the negative emotions which arise from the experience of its pain. He says that pain doesn’t want you to pay attention to it, it wants you to hide from it so that it can pretend to be you and convince you that you are it. His suggestion is to put all your attention on the pain just as you would put all your attention on your breath during meditation, “watching” it to separate yourself from it.
In all honesty, the thought terrified me. My whole life has been spent escaping pain. To think of turning and facing it was cause for hesitation. Thinking back I remembered a couple of recent instances when I had actually done this technique without even realizing it and recalled that it had actually worked on minor pain. I decided to give it a try. At this point in my life I would do anything if it means curing the one thing that is holding me back from my dreams.
I started Eckhardt’s pain practice at work. One day I was up and down ladders all day and my “bad hip” began to ache. I focused directly at the pain, “watching it”, as Mr. Tolle had prescribed. Instantly it lessened by half. Any time I would take my mind off of it, it would flare and intensify. I would return my focus back to it and it would lessen. Over and over, all day long I kept the pain from getting worse, and it didn’t even hurt that next morning when I woke up as it had so often.
My daughter works with me but has taken on a second job, which means that I’m doing everything myself three days a week. I didn’t even realize that I had convinced myself that I could not physically do the things she had done, which she had taken on co~dependently to attempt to save me from pain. With this new technique I find that anytime I begin to hurt, no matter what the reason or the history or the seemingly~inevitable circumstances, I have successfully turned the pain away. Yet, until yesterday I had only ever practiced this on small doses of pain. I’d been wondering when the next big incident would occur when I could practice this technique on something serious.
I was sitting at my desk doing math and noticed the pain coming on. I watched it, as I have become accustomed to doing. The practice took a lot less time to master than I had imagined. I knew my neighbor might call and ask me to come visit and I was dreading it. Pain makes me want to be alone, but I hadn’t seen him in awhile and it was time. He called and I went to visit.
When I got there he was looking at pictures of his last vacation on the computer. More sitting, just what I didn’t need. I stood for awhile, sat and stood again, watching the pain as I looked at the pictures, but his conversation diverted my mind from my task and it advanced. Eventually it got to the point where I realized it was going to be a “big one”, a migraine that involved nausea and several days of suffering. I excused myself and went home.
My first thought was to turn on Netflix but I chose not to. I went up to bed and lay down. The pain was hitting hard: in my eyes, my neck, my left shoulder in particular. I was watching it but was intimidated by doing so. It was big, really big, looming and threatening to advance. In my mind I was looking for somewhere small to hide.
I realized that there was, in fact, a place inside me that didn’t hurt. It was in my core, the smallest part of me. I began to visualize myself in layers, like an onion, and the outside layers all hurt, but there was one layer in the furthest depths that didn’t. Keeping my eye on the pain I went there, lived there. The one single small little space that the pain couldn’t touch. The tiny glowing dot in the center of this image describes it well.
I think I expected that the pain would just go away, but it didn’t. After a while of holding it back I realized that it was only going to go away so much. I gave up for a moment, deciding that I didn’t want to be face to face with the amount of pain that was left. But giving up caused it to take control of me so I quickly returned to watching it. The more I lived in the painless space the more relaxed my body became. It took a concentrated effort not to brace myself against it. After staying in this state for awhile I got up to use the bathroom and my neck popped several times loudly. My muscles had relaxed enough to let go of the tension.
It began to imagine myself laying in front of a huge panel of glass. The pain was behind the glass. I could see it and experience it but it wasn’t me and didn’t control me. It did feel like an entity. I could see its tentacles through the glass, its many~layered little anemone fingers and teeth, very similar to the background behind the figure on the first image on this page. It was many~coloured and hideous but I made sure not to make what I was doing into despising it. It had no power, it merely wanted to live. Pain, as the ego, began as a servant but got out of control, was allowed too much power. To honour its purpose is to set it free. Helpless and unable to reach me it flopped its tentacles and gnashed its teeth.
Thoughts would come and go, my mind telling me about the pain and how bad it hurt and this and that, causing the pain to advance. I would drop the thought and return to watching it. Eventually I realized that thoughts were pain as well. I placed them behind the glass with it, where they belonged. I got really sleepy and began to drift off.
My Other came in with a Starbucks’ Energy Mocha, which sometimes helps depending on the type of pain, but I told him to put it in the refrigerator. I slipped off to sleep and didn’t wake up til morning.
The next day I had little residual aches and pains from it, some that I had to watch all day. Still, they were nothing compared to what I should have been experiencing, what I would have experienced every single other time I got that kind of migraine. I was not able to sit at my desk and do math, but the key here is that I was not suffering.
It works! It really works. It’s the only thing that has ever worked. In the video, Eckie (as I like to call him, precious little man that he is) says that with regular practice we can become completely pain~free. Knowing how much better the pain is while watching it and holding it back, I never want to go back to allowing it to take me. I can choose to refuse to feed it.
We cannot reject the pain, we cannot fight it. This, too, is resistance. The secret is simply to watch it. Observe it. Stop identifying with it. It is not you. As the video says, observe how you want to talk about it, how you take a strange pleasure in it. When I first heard that I laughed out loud because I’ve never taken a pleasure in it….or have I? Pain serves a purpose, and no matter how much you think you hate it and how much you think you are ready to get rid of it, it is serving you somehow. I believe that my pain stems from not being valued as a child. My mother hated me the most because I was most like her and she hated herself. But when I was sick she took excellent care of me. Being sick was the only time I ever received affection from her.
I used to think that it was necessary to get to the root of the trauma in order to heal. Though it would be beneficial to discover what pain means to us and how we are using it for our own purpose, we don’t have to know the “why’s and how’s” to overcome obstacles. I cannot remember the first 13 years of my life and I may never. I had to move on. I couldn’t wait to remember to heal. It used to really bother me, but now it’s okay.
Without further pause let me share with you the video that is changing my life! I would never have believed it had I not witnessed it in action. It’s scary, and it’s not comfortable by any means…not yet. It’s better than what I had before, and I can see light at the end of the tunnel for the first time in my life. No ailment is forever, no symptom set in stone.