This short video illustrates the differences between short term and chronic pain, and suggests 9 ways to live with pain with a little more ease and grace. These simple methods can be used on a daily basis to address the emotional ramifications of living with chronic pain. Adapted from my ebook, Living Better While Living With Pain.
Included In a New Way
Finally, it swooped around me, including me in its flight range. It didn't feel like it was trying to chase me away, instead, it just felt friendly. The swallow dipped back down to the grassy area and then up and around just behind me again and again for several minutes, making large, graceful circles around me.
I just stood there, breathing quietly and enjoying the playful attention. I realized that I had not been completely still in Nature and just watched it and enjoyed it for a long time. I was usually walking through it or driving past it, but not stopping to just be in it.
I watched the easy, graceful flight, the joyful turns and flutters and soaring movements of the birds for a few minutes. I could see the gray wings and the patterns of blue and white on their little backs. I noticed what was happening in my body while I watched the swallows dip and dive, and particularly the sensations of the one flying circles around me.
I was filled with a sense of renewal and joy. One would think “out of nowhere”, but it wasn’t. It was from these birds, and the sensation of watching them, and, it seemed, something they were bringing me. I felt included in Life in a beautiful and unusual way.
Of Course, Nature Heals
I consciously let myself have a vicarious flight with the swallows, feeling the freedom in their bodies, and how whole they were. And, for some moments, these little birds soothed the pain in my body.
Was I making it up? Perhaps. But, I guess I’d say, who cares? Does it really matter whether the healing comes from the birds, Nature, or from my conscious (or imagined) connection to them? Or all those things? Because I felt better. My body felt better. My soul felt eased.
That’s a lot when you’re in pain.
Do birds have healing power, or Nature as a whole? Now that I ask that question, it almost seems silly to doubt it.
We are Nature too, and I think our nervous systems were made for being closer to the earth, walking barefoot on it, sleeping out under the stars, breathing fresh air, listening to bird song, and watching the movements of animals and letting that inform our own bodies.
And I think we have discounted the impact that not being close to Nature has on our bodies and our pain levels. I’ve asked this question before: are we creating more pain in our bodies on the whole (especially inexplicable pain) because we have forced our nervous system to conform to unnatural rhythms, cut off from its natural regulator (Nature) and a very real, visceral connection with the natural world?
On A Path to Well Being
Today, I felt like I got an answer. My body felt refreshed and energized, my pain levels soothed, and I had a much better sense of well being just from standing there in the morning sun and letting myself become fully aware, breathe in, and appreciate the offering from the swallows.
A Native American friend and teacher healed her cancer many years ago by spending about a week sitting for hours every day under a waterfall in Brazil, letting the natural force of the water wash everything away, including all the grief and sadness of her life, which she allowed to freely flow from her into the water.
Tomorrow, I think I’ll drive to the woods and walk barefoot on the earth. Maybe I’ll do an experiment with pain levels and the amount of time I spend not only outside, but truly in tune with, listening to, and appreciating the movements, sounds, energies, and patterns of Nature.
Who knows? Maybe bird songs actually heal. Maybe dirt does. Maybe the sun is an elixir, and so is the moonlight if taken in with a kind of respectful, quiet, attuned and loving attention.
And maybe if those things don't completely heal, I will at least have a greater sense of well being along this road, and that's worth a lot too. I’ll keep you posted.
Image: Swallow on Thorn Branch, Toshun, 1747-1797 (Wikimedia Commons)
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saying. But what we sometimes do is stop participating with others almost entirely, and, in that way, put our lives on hold.
Again, there can be times for this as part of the path through pain. We may feel we have to withdraw from others for a time in order to heal. We need more rest and less stimulation than normal, and we often need to pull away from group situations in order to give ourselves that space.
But it's also important to find ways to step back into life, to re-include activities we enjoy and people we enjoy, in whatever capacity we can, even while we are still living with pain.
When we’re in pain, we may not remember that we are still important to others. We still have an impact on the people who love us. They miss being with us, they still care for us, and they are part of our overall connection with life.
When we feel terrible, it’s easy to forget that we are still lovable and still loved. Withdrawing because we assume that people don't want us around, or because we can't participate fully, cuts off opportunities for loving engagement with life. It’s not entirely healthy, and it’s often not happy either.
We have online communities of others who are on this path through pain and these are very important and valuable places to go to feel fully seen, heard and understood AND we want to be careful that we don't create an exclusive club of people in pain only. While we do have to adjust our lives to accommodate our current limitations, we don't want to narrow them down so much that we lose our connection with its ongoing flow.
When we're in pain for a long time, it's true, some of our friends and acquaintances will no longer be part of our lives, they will move on without us. But others will want to stay connected. I think it's important to find out who is still there for us, who tries to understand, who tries to hear, who offers to help in whatever way they can.
And it's important to reach out, not just for help (which is, in itself, a very important movement), but to reach toward life itself and toward engagement - not to wait for pain to stop before we can carry on with life.
We may not be able to be with others or participate in life in the same capacity as before, nevertheless, our ability to love is still present and we must never allow that to be shut down by pain. When we withdraw completely, we aren't being abandoned by others, we are the ones who are pulling away.
More Than Getting Through
It's so important to find ways to reach out in love, and to express love. To let dear ones know that, even in pain, we care about them. No loving gesture is too small. A phone call, an email, a cup of tea, a short visit, a meetup, an update. I'm still here. I still love you.
We may choose to put our life on hold while we're in pain, but it doesn't wait for us. It keeps flowing on. That can become a great sadness if we wake up a few years later and realize we've disconnected ourselves from the main stream.
It's sad, and it's frightening. Best to find ways, however small, to remain connected with others, connected with life, even as we're on this challenging and often lonely journey through pain. Especially while we're on this challenging and lonely journey.
As the oft-quoted musician and performer, Prince, once stated, “Dearly Beloved, we are gathered here today to get through this thing called life.” And we are all gathered here. This earth is too small for any of us to pull away into our own solo paths of sorrow and suffering. We’re all in it together.
And, hopefully, we can not just get through it, but find new ways to thrive, to flourish, to create, to love, and to dream.
Image: Gather Ye Rosebuds, John William Waterhouse, 1909 (Wikimedia Commons)
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In fact, it is almost a sin to do nothing, to step out of the constant stream of work, entertainment, and busy-ness.
Pain Is A Natural Part of Healing
When we are forced to slow way, way down, therefore, we often feel bad about it. We think we should still be up and around, on the phone with people at work, and taking care of things.
We may feel we must hide our pain, pretend it isn’t there and do as much as we would normally do. We think we have to just “grin and bear it.”
Since we don’t have a positive context for pain as a natural element of the process of healing and recovery, we see it as something to fight, overcome, and eventually eradicate. If we can’t do that, we’re somehow letting ourselves be run by the enemy. We feel guilty when we can’t make it stop, when we can’t quickly return to our lives, our duties, and our commitments.
We’re under pressure to heal for all kinds of reasons: we want to get back to work, our kids need our attention, our relationships are strained, the medical bills are piling up, we’re tired of being in pain.
Doctors, therapists, workmen’s compensation systems and insurance companies often have an expectation for what they feel is an appropriate amount of time within which our bodies are expected to heal. If we aren't responding positively to treatments, or we require a more lengthy recovery period than is considered the norm, we may feel shamed for not having healed already.
Feeling Bad About Feeling Bad
Not healing, not relieving our bodily ills and pain, creates guilt because in some way we feel that it’s our fault that things aren’t working out better. We worry that we’re not doing enough to heal, and we aren’t trying hard enough.
We may feel on some deep level that we are letting ourselves and everyone else down. We are concerned that we are burdening others as well. We don’t want our loved ones to worry, and we want to relieve them of having to do the things we can’t do for ourselves.
As the length of time we are in pain and unable to work lengthens, we may experience a subtle, creeping, persistent feeling of shame and failure.
It begins to feel like we are somehow less than a whole person since we are unable to fully contribute to and participate in life. This can lead to feelings of depression, uselessness and meaninglessness.
Antidotes for Shame & Guilt
1. You are Not Wrong for Being in Pain
Being in pain is not your fault. You are not wrong, guilty, bad or screwed up. Being in pain does not equate with being weak, bad, or needy, nor does it mean you are wrong or inadequate as a person.
2. You Are Not on Anyone’s Timetable
Pain keeps its own timetables and no one has the ability to read them completely accurately, not even your doctor. Our bodies are on their own healing schedule that can’t be forced.
3. It's Okay To Do Less
While in pain, your ability to attend to the everyday tasks of life is automatically compromised. It’s part of the package. Give yourself permission to do less, and be honest with others about how much you can and can't handle.
4. Ask for Assistance
Sometimes shame and guilt about needing help makes us reluctant to ask for assistance. Everyone has times in life when they need to depend on others to assist them or take over what they can't do. This is your time. Ask for the help you need as clearly and honestly as you can.
5. Receive Financial Assistance Graciously
One pervasive perception we have in our culture is that people who accept assistance are mooching off society. The truth is, the money is supposed to be there for you, whether it is from charity or government assistance. At times we put money into the collective pot and at times we need to draw money out. It's the way it's supposed to work.
6. Stop Trying to Make Other People Feel Better
Making other people feel better can take the form of a) not expressing what you need so you don’t burden them, b) downplaying your continued pain so your doctor or other caretakers feel better about the job they’re doing, or c) attempting programs or exercises that you’re not ready for because you are responding to someone else’s urging, or avoiding blame for not trying harder.
7. Know That Healing is Your Current Job
Your real job, for now, is healing. Don’t judge yourself harshly according to what you used to be capable of doing. You are handling another aspect of life right now that requires a great deal of time and energy.
When you heal, you will have a stronger sense of appreciation for the life you have, and a greater capacity for compassion toward yourself and others.
Your priorities may be rearranged for a while, or forever, but that’s not always a bad thing. Let yourself learn whatever this time with pain is trying to teach you.
This post was adapted from The Pain Companion, by Sarah Anne Shockley
Image: Deianira, Evelyn de Morgan, 1878 (Wikimedia Commons)
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