What is the Meaning of our Pain?

What do any of us really know about pain? What can we say about it other than it hurts?

If you’ve never experienced a rib injury, like bruising, tearing of cartilage, cracking or the worst… a broken rib, you need to know that it is extremely painful and affects everything you do. You can hardly get in and out of bed, it’s so bad. This past winter, I tore the cartilage between my ribs and sternum and it took at least two months to heal. And to my dismay, just last week, I injured my ribs again!!

You see, I’ve had scoliosis since I was a kid. And at the time they thought it was mild, not enough to warrant surgery or fixing. But as I’ve gotten older, it has progressed and the twisting of my spine causes me a lot of pain. Massage alone doesn’t help. So this year, I’ve been trying different forms of physical therapy and recently started treatment with a certified Rolfer.

I was at my second session and being guided into a contraption for lumbar inversion when my left side just started hurting. Not terrible, but I knew right away I’d done something bad. Both times I’ve injured my ribs, the pain grows over the first few days, peaking around day four or five and sidelining you from almost every activity you’ve been doing up until then.

So it happened on a Monday, and by Thursday night I could barely move. I went to a birthday party for a fellow dance instructor, and where I would normally be out on the floor with all my friends, I declined every offer to dance. It was hard not to just grin and bear it, but I knew that if I pushed past the pain, I’d be extending the healing by days or even weeks. And so I sat out and didn’t dance at all.

The next day, I realized I wouldn’t be able to teach my usual Friday morning yoga class, but I hadn’t yet messaged M. to cancel. I decided to just let her show up and ask if she wanted to lead the class instead. That way I would just follow along doing only what felt “okay.” Fresh out of her yoga teacher training, she was happy to gain more practice in leading.

I already knew my movement would be limited and my strength almost nothing. I moved as if for the very first time, going only as far as I felt safe, discovering slowly what my body could and couldn’t do. Experiencing fully all of my limitations, I thought, there must be a reason for this injury. Maybe I’m supposed to take things slower. Maybe the Rolfing isn’t right for me. Or maybe something needed to tear so something else can be repaired, maybe…maybe…

And suddenly a voice from within stated matter-of-factly:

There doesn’t need to be a reason.

That’s when I realized that for the past few days, I’d been preoccupied with trying to find a “reason” that would justify my experience. I was stuck in my head trying to make sense of the pain instead of in my body just being with it, allowing it.

That’s the beauty of yoga; more than an exercise, it will teach you everything about yourself if you let it.

For example, when pain is present, physical or emotional, “reasoning” is usually not what’s needed. But logic is usually the very first thing we throw at our discomfort to deal with it or make it go away. But pain is never logical. We can’t explain it. We simply have to feel it and allow it. Breathe with it. Breathe into it.

I remember as a child feeling so frightened whenever I was hurt or sick to my stomach. I wasn’t able to control my body, something I thought I “should” be able to do. Things like throwing up were devastating and I’d try to hold back if I could. For years, I forced my body to behave, to not get out of line or need anything. There was no room for pain.

But there’s nothing like literally being brought to your knees to teach you a thing or two about power. So sitting there in child’s pose, unable to do anything, I gave up the fight.

Whether it’s emotional or physical pain, our bodies hold it in unique ways. When it stops us from our normal routine, it’s easy to feel resentful. But contrary to the way we usually view it (ie. negatively) pain is not an enemy. I often don’t know its “reason for being” or what it wants to “teach me.” I only know that when it’s present, I need to honor it in a way I’m not fully used to.

So after years of fighting with pain:

  • I’m learning that pain comes and goes from our lives without warning and just as it damn well pleases. It’s one thing we can’t really get our grimy controlling fingers around.
  • It’s humbling, but also a strand of common ground we all share to some extent. For this reason, pain can build a bridge between souls.
  • Pain doesn’t confer with the mind and for this reason, it’s more akin to the soul than the ego. Through it, we can catch a glimpse of who we are beyond the form we take right now.
  • Pain is not a punishment. Pain might move us…as in, Ow!! That’s hot! But pain is not a judgment or indictment. It holds no meaning at all except that which we give it.
  • Pain leads us,  if we allow it, to our vulnerable core, to the part of us that understands love and healing and forgiveness as things of the highest order.

IMG_2030 (1)I’m not weird; I don’t like pain any more than the next person. I’d avoid it entirely if I could, but that doesn’t seem to be the reality for me right now. And I guess that’s why I’m looking for a new way to deal with it, one that feels better than battling my body or leveraging my energy against it.

I can tell you now who’s bound to win.

Have you ever had to deal with chronic pain or an injury that took a long time to heal? How did you make sense of the situation?

Tracy  ~A Girl on Her Own


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