Whilst this post is not intended to be a manual for dealing with physical pain mindfully, my hope is that my experiences and reflections may offer you a valid point of reference for your own self-enquiry. If chronic pain is part of your experience or you feel that a connection to me through my words, please feel free to reach out to me through the website.
Most of the people I have met on this journey ‘found’ Mindfulness from a place of pain or desperation – whether that be from an addiction or depression; anxiety or self-loathing, or anything in between, the common thread is one of pain – mental or physical – often a combination of the two – resulting in a life- denying existence.
I knew fundamentally when faced with such all-consuming pain, when truly sitting with myself for the first time, that there had to be more to my life than this. This epiphany saved my sanity – and perhaps my life – and paved the way for my ongoing transformation.
At its worst, the pain was all-consuming and for five or six months I was confined to my bedroom, only getting up to say goodbye to my young children as they went to nursery and then hello to them in the evening before they went to bed. I was taking a combination of 5 different medications for pain and to deal with the side effects of the medication (!) which meant taking upwards of 30 pills a day, with liquid morphine as a ‘top-up’ should I require it. At this point although my body was living, I didn’t consider myself to have a life – I was merely existing; living for the moment when I could take more medication to help numb the pain enough for me to cope.
Surgery afforded me a few months respite from the unbearable pain but it soon returned much to the surprise of my consultant who was hoping to give me 2-3 years pain-free. It was only when I was told the doctors had met the end of the diagnostic road for me and that the only ‘solution’ they could offer was either a full hysterectomy “in case” it made a difference to my pain levels, or long-term morphine prescriptions, that I was desperate enough to look for an alternative: Mindfulness, in the form of The Now Project, proved to be that alternative.
On my first retreat, in June 2014, I was still taking Tramadol for pain but I was desperate to find an alternative way to manage the pain. Although not yet awakened, I had enough awareness to realise that I wasn’t fully present in my own life due to the impact of the pharmaceutical drugs: rather than taking the pain away from me they were taking me away from the pain. I felt a sense of disconnectedness, although what I didn’t realise at the time was that I was disconnected from my true self. Somewhere within the depths of my soul I knew there was an alternative way for me and the retreat opened this up.
Whilst no one explicitly taught me how to approach and process my pain, being within the healing frequency of the team and the stillness of a beautiful, natural environment fundamentally changed me and began to impact my experience of pain.
After my first retreat I quickly booked the next one – for the following month! I then used the conscious breathing techniques I had learned to get me through the anxiety of my MRI scan, after which I remember feeling jubilant as I had always considered myself to be claustrophobic and had previously requested sedation in order to cope with the trauma of being in such an enclosed space for an extended period of time – the result of which was the diagnosis of a 5cm ovarian cyst which my consultant wanted to remove. When he advised me that if the cyst ruptured before surgery all they could do would be to offer me pain medication and keep an eye on me, I knew within myself that more surgery was not the right option for my body and so I cancelled the laparoscopy.
When the cyst ruptured at home I was in the most pain I can remember experiencing and I was alone. With practice – and some loving guidance from Barry over the phone – I learned to process the pain without medication or medical intervention. In essence what I learned was very simple, but for me, it transformed my experience of pain immensely. The mantra “This too shall pass” became my sacred truth and along with “I am light, I am love, I am truth” enabled me to disengage the anxious stories I had become accustomed to running through my mind at such points, and allow my body to process the pain. As I felt the pain – really felt it – I realised that I had been turning from it – now able to tune into the wisdom of my body – as my mind was quiet enough to hear it – I felt guided to turn INTO it. Initially I found that the pain appeared to increase as a result – as I was giving it my full attention – but it became apparent to me that the only way through it, for me, was just that – through it. I sat with my trusty heat-pad, consciously breathing for five or six hours until I realised that the intensity of the pain had lessened significantly and the worst of this episode had passed.
This was a huge turning point for me: I realised that with presence, intention and acceptance I could process physical pain through truly feeling it. For me, the ‘answer’ lay in compassionately accepting the pain – turning into it – and cradling it like a baby much as you might when working with an emotional pain body.
I also realised that, for me, there was a direct link between physical pain and emotional trauma: the more I learned to release repressed emotion – through meditation and the emotional clearing sessions on retreat (during several of which my release was rather dramatic and involved me screaming like a banshee!) the more I set my body free from pain. Whilst I am not in a position to say with any sense of authority that all physical pain is a manifestation of repressed emotion, I can say that for me, there is a lot of truth in this statement.
I am currently in a position in which chronic pain no longer features in my life. As I sit here and reflect on what was an exceptionally dark and difficult time that was for me, I am hand-on-heart, hugely grateful for the experience. It afforded me the space to look within; to do some real soul-searching and dig deep enough to find the courage to acknowledge how deeply unhappy and unfulfilled I was in my previous marriage and within myself. Ultimately this very painful experience empowered me. I knew I had the strength within myself to get through this.
Since my recovery I have had several episodes of acute pain – perhaps as the universe’s way of ensuring I don’t become complacent! – and have put my learning into practice, allowing myself the time and space I need to process it. Often it has taken more time than I have wanted – and sometimes medical intervention has been required (like the time when I locked a facet joint in my lower back and was immobile – in the same week Paul did exactly the same, interestingly!) but it has always passed.
The truth that my experiences of pain have left imprinted on my heart is that we are so much more powerful than the world – or even we ourselves – would have us realise. We literally have the power to alter our experience of reality!
Pain is an inevitable part of the human condition – in fact I would go so far as to say that is a prerequisite for personal transformation, but there are many ways we can minimise our suffering along this path. Accepting pain as a message from the universe rather than a personal attack is one such starting point.
If my words or experiences have resonated with you and you feel a conversation would help you on your path then please feel free to contact me.