What Pain Teaches

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For months I have been coping with daily pain. It would be easy for me to rail here about the pain, the difficult tests, the arrogance of physicians of both sexes, the drain on my spirit, my bank account and my quality of life. Or the fact that the  source of the pain has not yet been diagnosed and has morphed its way into other locales of my body.

But what good would detailing my health challenges serve? Better that I share some of what I am learning through this challenge so the pain counts for something. Let me be clear: I am not looking for sympathy even as I send this out into the world for friends and strangers to digest. I actually wrote this blog a week ago and sat on it while I wrestled with my motivation. I wanted to be clear that I wasn’t looking for attention for the sake of attention. And what I have come back to is this: expression. I want to share my learning and I want a witness to this time in my life. That is all.

What I’m Learning:

For starters, I am learning to redefine the definition of a good day. Prior to this mysterious imbalance in my body, I would have snubbed my nose at a slow, ordinary day. Rolled my eyes, even.  Now, ordinary is extraordinary….and any fleeting moment when I am without discomfort feels like a gift from the heavens.

I am learning to focus on what is important to me in the moment. Physical pain is distracting, but strangely, brings razor sharp clarity. I don’t have time or energy for drama, pettiness, or anything that smells of spectacle anymore. I am finding myself a little more direct these days, and that is not necessarily a bad thing (though uncomfortable for a people pleasing Libra).

I am learning that no one can fully understand another person’s challenges unless they have experienced it themselves. I actually learned this one when I went through my divorce years ago. The people who were able to provide the most comfort were the ones who had been down the divorce road ahead of me.

It’s the way it is. I have had friends deal with cancer, the death of their parents, the death of their spouses and many other crisises. I have empathized and supported them all to the best of my empathic ability, but I know I could never fully understand their situation because I hadn’t traveled that road. Knowing this, I don’t expect those closest to me to fully know the burden I carry. And on some level, I don’t want them to anyway.

I am learning some cliches such as “when you have your health, you have everything” are wise truisms. And I think I want this truism tattooed on my forehead where everyone can see it and where I’ll never forget it.

I am learning that laughter is the best medicine and the cheapest. Thankfully, I have people around me who can still make me laugh through troubled times.

I am learning the power of looking ahead….and yes, contrary to popular teachings, moving out of the moment. This might sound like blasphemy to New Age teachers like Eckhart Tolle and others. But in this situation, I need to look into the future. When I look ahead, I can imagine a healthier self. When I stay rooted in the present moment I feel imprisoned by the pain in my body.

I am learning the importance of being positive but also expressing the truth of my situation. Sometimes I secretly get annoyed when people say to me, “Stay positive,” when I am in the midst of a challenging situation. It makes me feel dismissed, even when I know this is not the intention. Let me feel whatever I am feeling in the moment–positive, negative, frustrated, confused, enlightened or just plain sad. My feelings need expression so they can move through me and out of me. Trust that I will always find my way back to my center and to a more balanced position. It’s my nature. (Again, the Libra thing.)

I am learning that pain can be its own muse. I am writing poetry, journaling and viewing life from a different creative prospective right now. And creation of any sort, is always a blessing.

I am learning to appreciate my body. In the midst of this health challenge, I am looking at my body in a more favorable light. I shudder when I think how much I concentrate on the imperfections brought on by aging. Now, I care far less about my wrinkles and lines and looser skin. What I want most of all is a healthy, pain free body to carry me though the years ahead.

I am learning the grace of humility all over again. The grace of patience, the grace of solitude, the grace of compassion for everything and everyone…including me.

And finally–or at least for the purpose of this essay–I am learning that sometimes “shit happens” and maybe there is a lesson, and maybe not. But I can always choose to learn something from the experience. And I can choose to be brave.

I’ll close with the wise words of one of my favorite poets, Mark Nepo. “Just as cries are absorbed into silence, as the sun always rises just when the night feels like it will never end, as the sky holds everything that is flying and everything that is falling, there is something indestructible at the center of each of us…”

Yes, there is.

What learning did you take from a difficult time in your life? I would love to hear from you.

If you’re interested in more thoughts on integrity, compassion and grace, particularly at midlife, read my book Tao Flashes. Or visit me at http://www.facebook.com/taoflashes or on twitter @taoflashes.


15 thoughts on “What Pain Teaches

  1. Lisa, I am so sorry that you are still in pain. I will be glad for you when this chapter in your life is in the past. I too have come to appreciate the “ordinary day”. I have so appreciated your friendship during my emotionally difficult year with my mom’s decline and death. I am now back into my old routine and I’m grateful for the ordinariness of it. I am trying to focus on my health these days, with healthy eating and more exercise and yes, even less wine drinking. I’m here for you and sending your healing prayers.

    • Carol, thanks for the healing thoughts. It means a lot to me. I see myself on the other side…and as a matter of fact, today is the best I’ve felt in the last two weeks. So it’s a good day.
      P.S. I am enjoying your renovations!

  2. I am so sorry that you are dealing with pain, Lisa. It’s the opposite of fun I always say. I hope you get toward the other side to wellness soon. Prayers and healing thoughts coming your way. Even in the worst of times I try to find a silver lining. You show here that you have.
    P.S. You asked at the beginning what point is it to detail your health challenges. Of course we don’t want to complain all the time -there’s no point. But by detailing our health challenges we can help others see that they are less alone and in that there is grace and dignity for everyone. Truly.

  3. Cathy, you are such an inspiration to me. My health challenges are relatively new and have been a bit overwhelming. I’ve wondered many times how you and others living with chronic pain manage. All we can do is our best….and keep our heads up. You set a great example, Cathy.

    • It’s baby steps, Lisa. Baby steps. Take one day at a time and keep positive thoughts in your mind as best as you can. Breathe and listen to the breathe. Focus on it. Meditate when possible.

      Recently during my first bout with kidney stones meditating helped and I recommend it for you.

      Light and love to you for better days….

      • Yes, I agree, meditation does help! Thanks for your support and I hope you are doing well. I expect to get to the other side of this …and hopefully soon.

  4. Thank you for sharing your lessons. I really relate to what you said about needing to look towards the future. I said something similar to my husband last night, about needing to believe that the pain will pass. Also about needing to express all the emotions associated with being in pain, it is not all rainbows. Sometimes the dark clouds roll in and for a moment I want to collapse into the despair, the anger so that I can let it go.

    • Yes, I have had some of those days where I just wanted to be out of the moment, out of my body and into a future moment where I was pain free. I believe these days are ahead, though I too have had moments where I wanted to collapse in despair. Most of these moments are hidden from loved ones and public viewing, but they exist. And then the day breaks and there is hope. Express your frustration so it will move out of you, even if yo do it in a journal or into e tissue or the comforting arms of friends. Keep believing in better days, even when it is hard. They re there, just around the bend. Yesterday I did not feel well, but went bout my life. Today was much better and maybe tomorrow will be too. For you too. I am sending you the warmest wishes and good vibes.

  5. Lisa, Your words have such strength and clarity – and truth. Naked truth. What a barrel of mixed emotions, physically and mentally…and I know they change from minute to minute. I am hoping you are able to find out the source of your pain and eliminate it. Once you do that you’ll be left with even more clarity about life (although it sounds like you have gained a LOT of that). I know how draining chronic pain is and how it can make you feel so hopeless, sad and beyond frustrated. I’m thinking of you, my Libra friend. xo

  6. I feel for you. Been having an extended problem with my foot that seems mostly resolved thank God. I hope I don’t take walking pain-free for granted again. At the same time, I share your frustration with a seemingly indifferent medical community dedicated to the obvious answer and the quick fix, whether or not it’s right.

  7. Lisa,
    We have such a mixture of emotions when our body betrays us. When I was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2004, I was terrified. I had 10 breast cancer surgeries and eight rounds of chemo. My faith in God, meditation and Guided Imagery audios by Belleruth Naperstek sustained me. She is the founding “mother” of GI and held in high-esteem. Four years ago, Christmas Day, my husband went for a run and died of a heart problem we didn’t know he had. My whole family unraveled. Again, it was my faith, meditation and Guided Imagery audios that got me through this time. Sending you my best, Brenda

    • Your story took my breath away. I can hear your strength and feel your grace. I am so sorry you have had so much to deal with– and really sorry about your husband too. Thank you for the inspiring and thoughtful words. Wishing you the best.

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