While the New Age movement certainly has at its core a plethora of valuable ideas that can help humanity, some of these ideas are not always entirely supportive of those of us in chronic pain - at least not at the superficial level most often touted by New Age evangelists and motivational speakers.
We are lead to believe that if we can only think positively enough, visualize enough, and do enough affirmations, we will end our pain. That's the way it's supposed to work. Right?
Clap Your Hands And Believe
When I contracted my painful condition I was working in a metaphysical bookstore. I had a library of New Age books on my own shelves at home, and all of them were well read from cover to cover. I could meditate, visualize, create intentions, and do affirmations with the best of them. These techniques had all been wonderful boons at various times and helped me create loads of great experiences. But…
None of these things helped my pain once I was injured.
And, because New Age magical thinking says you can change anything, and this belief is becoming part of our collective consciousness, those of us who live with conditions that simply don’t improve, often feel like we've screwed up somehow. Why isn't it working for us?
Nice Ideas...For Some
1) If you think positively you can have anything you want.
2) Sickness and pain result from negativity and/or denial of Spirit.
Okay. Guess what? These tenets are fairly useless when you’re in deep pain. Or, let’s put it differently. These ideas may have some truth in them, but neither of them are the whole truth.
1) If You Think Positively, You Can Have Anything: It's a nice thought, I just haven’t seen it work that well with chronic pain.
I’m all for thinking positively, just don’t tell me I’m in pain because I’m not doing enough of it. For those of us who find ourselves living with physical pain, thinking positively is exhausting. It’s really hard to get fired up with positive thoughts when you can barely stay in your body.
I don't know how any of the top New Age gurus would fare if they were plunked down in the middle of my life at the worst of my pain. It’s incredibly challenging just to live through it, let alone drum up some magical positive thoughts.
And, thinking positively for someone in chronic pain looks different than for someone whose body works. Positive thinking for someone in chronic pain doesn’t look like leaping through fields of daisies. It looks like deciding to keep going another day with as much dignity as you can muster.
2) All Pain is the Result of Negativity and/or Denial of Spirit: Most of us in pain go through times when we’re angry with Spirit, God, Creator, or whatever term we use for the divine being, but it doesn’t mean we’re in denial of our spiritual selves.
Many of us in pain have had to find a way to get closer than ever to the spiritual aspects of Self and Life in order to carry on. We have had to dig more deeply, believe more strongly, and pull up more faith and hope from within the depths of ourselves to get through one day than many people need in a year.
And, one could ask, who is in more denial? The one who lives with their pain and dances with it in it the best, most positive, way they can, or the one who tells us to wish it away through magical thinking and affirmations?
You're On A Different Path, Not The Wrong Path
As with the journey through grief, or the journey through birthing a baby, ours is a journey that also includes a level of deep pain for the time being. But that does not make it any less sacred, less true, or less valid than any other path.
Because, as far as I can see, healing chronic pain is not about trying to magic it away. It’s not so much about constantly seeking a way to get around it, as it is living with as much grace as possible while living through it and all the way out to the other side.
Sarah Anne Shockley is the author of The Pain Companion: Everyday Wisdom For Living With and Moving Beyond Chronic Pain and Living Better While Living With Pain. She is a staff columnist for Pain News Network.