In most cases, learning something essential in life requires physical pain.
So tired! I had a very, very rough night of pain...and not chest pain, abdominal pain. I can handle pain...I can. With my practice I am learning to relax into all experiences even physical pain.
I started with Charlie horses, which can be pretty nasty, years ago and I can say that I have mastered it. Every time I have one, I resist the urge to resist...meaning that I do not give into old pull - the- hand -away from -the flame - reflexes. I assure my amygdala that it is all good, that there is no immediate threat to my survival, that the pain will come and the pain will go. Instead of automatically jumping up and down in hope of putting out the internal fire...I still myself. I release anywhere I am starting to clench up and I breathe. I simply breathe. Now a charlie horse can skip up the pain scale pretty fast to an 8/10, right? Especially if we are adding extra muscle tension to it with our resistance of it...and they can last a good five minutes. But with my practice I am able to get the immediate pain to go from an eight to a two or a three. I also give it the opportunity to do its thing and be gone in less than a minute. What a difference! It was easy to practice with Charlie horses.
Then I went to chest pain. I handle my chest pain remarkably well. In my practice, I am learning to remove all story and narrative from the experience, all worry and concern about possible outcome. I remind myself there has been no fatal consequences or critical damage done to the heart in the 25 + years that I have had it therefore the likelihood of there being damage now is minimal. Most of the resistance one has to chest pain has to do with fear. Without fear there is less resistance, without resistance, there is less pain. Again, I resist the urge to resist it. ( and am learning, albeit not as quickly, to not push past it). I am learning to sit with it and I simply breathe while I become aware of areas of the body that are not experiencing pain sensation. If the pain still reaches a 6 or 7 on the pain scale or persists after a half hour of rest, I will take nitro...and do that protocol. I also look deeply into the root causes of the pain experience...what is going on in my life or my mind that might be triggering old samskaras. Long story short, I take a lot less nitro! And I have not gone into emergency with this pain in about six years!
I am learning to do it with other pain as well. Like the pain I started getting in my LUQ about a year ago. That was easy because it was never that bad but not knowing what was causing it and it being where it was, led to concern about it and my seeking an answer for it. ( to no avail). Which made the pain a little more intense than it had to be. I was able , once again, after a lot of heart to hearts with my amygdala, to assure it there there was no reason for worry. That led to a decrease in intensity of the pain experience. The left lower quadrant pain ...is fairly easy to handle, as well, especially with the mind relieved by evidence that it is just a benign cyst. When the mind with all its analysis and worry is out of the picture, physical pain is so much easier to handle.
Advanced Learning and Failure
But as I practice ,the challenges are getting harder. The pain I am most challenged by is abdominal pain. Now I am used to abdominal cramping...I have had a lactose intolerance all my life and know what happens when I eat dairy. Those middle of the night sessions can be pretty intense ...reaching an 8 easy on the scale and lasting, hours and hours, right through to morning. I have had plenty, plenty of those. So I have been practicing there with the "waves" of pain. I can relax in all the in between sessions and in the crest and trough of the pain, but when it peaks it is a lot more challenging. So I just remind myself I am riding a wave. The water will be still, then it will crest and peak but after that peak...it will trough again and settle into a peaceful remission until the next wave of pain. And eventually, the mission of the waves, will be accomplished and the pain will be gone....until the next time I eat too much dairy again. This is, of course, the same technique that Lamaze uses with labour contractions. I understand the physiological mechanism of this pain so well and that is helpful.
What is the Mind Doing In Our Pain Experiences?
I also notice and am still quite shocked by the psychological aspects of this pain, any intense pain I experience. After an episode I feel relief and hear myself saying...okay ...you took your punishment well. Now you have earned a bit of rest, a right to tend to the fatigue and other symptoms that remain.. It is like I give myself permission to sink into the recovery period of pain without guilt or shame...only if I did some intense suffering. That old core belief, associated with that old smaskara deep within me , that tells me I need to suffer through Life in order to earn my right to be here, emerges. The only way I can truly "nurture" myself, stop "doing" for others etc, is if I earned that right through intense suffering. Hmmm! It is only then, I feel I can turn to someone and say, "I had a rough night. I had a lot of pain." Otherwise, the discomfort of others drowns out my own.
So anyway...I am learning. We can learn so much through all our experiences...each human experience can help us to evolve at the deeper level. Physical pain can offer such an opportunity. But sometimes, it isn't easy. Last night...it wasn't easy. Something has been going on in my gut for a long time but man...it reached a peak last night. I woke up at two with that sweaty restless feeling I had the last few nights but this time there was pain, a type of abdominal pain I am used to but it was much more intense. I began practicing right away by relaxing into the pain, breathing, self talk etc but the pain shot up to a ten on the scale very quickly and each peak of pain was lasting so very long, getting stronger and stronger with each wave. My usual go to of "walking pain off" was not able to work because I was so very weak with it. I could only walk a few feet even during the little pause between the waves because my body was threatening to collapse. I felt like I was going to pass out. It made me feel chilled all over between each wave of intense heat. And I knew something was blocked...the waves of pain were fighting against a blockage and this pain was not going to go away anytime soon. The pain increased, the faint feeling increased. I collapsed onto the bathroom floor, shivering. I think there was so much pain, it was putting me into shock. Instead of relaxing and allowing the pain, I found myself, in some bizarre way, praying for death. I was pleading to some force I could not see but felt was punishing me again, "If you plan on making this go on any longer than an hour as punishment for my being here on this planet...well I rather not be here. I can't pay this price. Put me out of my misery. It is too much. I would rather be dead." It was that bad. And then just like that it stopped...well not stopped but diminished to the point where I could crawl back into bed to sleep. It was like the teacher pushed me to the point where she realized I was not going to pass this test and said..."Okay, you failed this time. I will try you again later." Man, I don't want to go through that again. I am feeling better pain wise right now but my body took a beating last night. I am, however, giving myself lots of recovery time because after enduring the intensity of taht pain, I feel I have earned it.
Okay, crazy lady, what was the point of this big long ramble?
We can use every experience we have the opportunity to have as human beings, including the pain experience, to learn and grow. All lessons come in graduated levels . Some lessons will be easier than others. We cannot beat ourselves up if we do not pass the advanced level tests...but, even in failure, there is still learning in them. Facing, allowing and even embracing the challenge of physical pain can help in our practice of accepting Life, and in our practice of relaxing into all that is.
The most important thing, I believe, is to look deeply into the psychological aspects of physical pain. Man, it still blows me away to see that deep rooted samskara in me that screams out the belief that I need to suffer so intensely just to breathe the air on this planet, that I am being punished, deservedly so, without every bout of pain I have.
Man...noon deserves to suffer like I did last night and I don't care what they might have done. Imagine thinking one deserves that!
Anyway, just sharing experiences that might be familiar to others....for learning purposes. We must learn to look at pain and and all it entails, saying.."And this too...this too belongs."
All is well!