Recently, I helped facilitate a women’s retreat based on Macrina Wierderkehr’s book, Seven Sacred Pauses. Since then, the women who attended have been keeping in touch to encourage each other to find ways to gift ourselves with pauses in our busy lives. Even just reminding ourselves to breathe.
Having practiced yoga and meditation over the last few years, my breath and I have become pretty good friends My breath has become a faithful companion that often draws me into awareness of my body and parts of it which are tight, carrying tension, out of alignment, or in pain. I will recognize my stress, fears or anxiety if I follow my breath into my body. My breath also leads me back to my heart and my spirit where that simple inhale and exhale become a prayer of presence.
A few mornings ago, I had just finished my yoga routine. There was nothing unusual about it, same thing that I do every day. But then, as I was rolling up my yoga mat, my back and chest were suddenly seized up by an incredible spasm of pain. It felt as though it was effecting every muscle and bone in my thorax and the pain was so severe that I felt as though I could not take a breath in. Even the slightest movement was agony. I rolled onto my side and lay there as still as possible, taking only the shallowest of breaths. Boy, was I ever AWARE of my breath. Watching it in minute detail. Where it began and where it ended. Each one punctuated with pain. Still, my mind raced with questions about what I was going to do. I didn’t know how long it would go on. Should I call my husband in the other room and tell him that I couldn’t get up. (It was reminding me of a senior citizen commercial. Something about “help, I’ve fallen and I can’t get up”. I did not want to do that.)
I thought about the fact that I was supposed to be doing my meditation, not rolling around on the floor in pain. Then I realized, the pain was my meditation. It was what I was going to get to pay attention to that day. And so I just tried to stay as present as I possibly could to the pain. I didn’t try to distract myself from it or try to relieve myself of it. I didn’t struggle against it. I tried to relax myself as much as possible and kept breathing.
Eventually, the extreme pain relented and I was able to take more regular breaths and then push myself up to sitting and then standing. Everything was painful that morning and most of the day, but in the midst of it I felt grateful. I was pretty sure that whatever it was wasn’t going to be permanent, and that my body was trying to right and heal itself. I know that there are millions and millions of people who live with pain every day. Physical pain, emotional and spiritual pain. I was being asked to pray with them through the pain in my own body.
I truly believe that if I had tried to ignore the pain or braced myself against it to keep it from happening, my body would have had a harder time finding its way back to its proper balance.
Is there any pain in your body today? In your mind or spirit? How might you be called to pause with your pain today?