Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Pausing for Pain













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?

21 comments:

Sulwyn said...

I appreciate your words today... I am in the midst of a flare up of a painful chronic condition that causes horrible headaches and eye aches, and along with it I am walking a deeply dark path through severe depression. Breathing is so important! There are times when all I can do is sit and breathe through the tears - no words, no thoughts - just breath in and out. Thank you for bringing this to the table.

Jennifer said...

Thank you for this post. I feel it is an answer to a question for me. Gratitude for sharing.

The Pollinatrix said...

I am currently reading The Power of Now by Eckhart Tolle, and just last night I read the part where he talks about the "pain-body," so this post is very timely for me.

I've always believed (at least intellectually) that a little pain never hurt anyone. I've tried to live with pain just the way you describe here - but often failed.

There are certain kinds of pain I'm better at "breathing with" than others, but I'm now delving into the kinds that are the hardest for me. "The pain is the meditation" is a very useful anchoring thought. Thank you.

Mark said...

Great blog sweety

Tess said...

As I read that I became aware that I was reading at a really silly angle, leaning on my left elbow, tension bordering on pain all the way up the right side of my back. I realised I often live with this kind of unawareness of what I'm doing to my body.
On breath, I took my first ever singing lesson on Monday and it was really interesting, learning to breathe properly, how to let breath out as sound, how the shape of the mouth creates different sounds. Oh, I think there might be a blog post in there somewhere.

That all said, are you actually alright? That experience sounds pretty serious and frightening as well as enlightening.

SUNRISE SISTER said...

I'm with Tess - I'm for enlightenment as well but it sounds as though it was more than a "little."

xoxoxo

Suz said...

Thank you, Rebecca, for honoring and praying with those of us who live in chronic pain. I am deeply touched.

Big hugs,
Suz

Nichol said...

My first thought was...YES!! Yell for Mark!!
I would have. :0)

I see what you are saying. My pain at the moment is emotional. I am trying to just be with it. Sometimes we are forced to..no choice...no one to yell for. It's new for me and i am trying to learn something from it.
love you

Rebecca Johnson said...

Sulwyn and Suz, I spent a few moments with my tears about reading both of your posts. There is so much pain in this world and I am so sorry that for some reason you have been asked to carry a piece of that. I wonder if I would be strong enough to keep breathing if I didn't know that my pain was going to go away. I honor your journeys and the hard work you do in this world.

Love....

Rebecca Johnson said...

Jennifer,

Ahhhh.....answers. A grace.

Love....

Rebecca Johnson said...

Polli,

Oh, yes. The pain body. The Power of Now was a stunner for me. I did the amazing e-event with Eckhart and Oprah. I have been through that book at least three times.

Doesn't Tolle talk about a lot of our pain being of our own making. It always amazes me that something that I would so much like to avoid and escape is something that I have created myself. : /

My prayers on with you during your painful delving. May it be only healing.

Love....

Rebecca Johnson said...

Oh Mark,

Don't call me sweety here! I'm trying to be all spiritual. Thanks though.

(That's my husband.)

Love...

Rebecca Johnson said...

Tess,

I am a gut clencher. I have to constantly focus on letting go there and it seems that the minute I look away it tightens back up. It's a very busy joy trying to be loving to our bodies.

How fun about singing lessons! I would love to try that. I want to sing like Pat Benetar or Joan Jett. Who do you want to sing like?

My back is fine. An osteopath I know would call it "a rib out". It's still a little sore in one place.

Love...

Rebecca Johnson said...

SS,

Thanks for your thoughts. I'll take my enlightenment in small doses. : )

Love...

Rebecca Johnson said...

Nichol,

I find physical pain much easier to bear and even easier to ignore. (Shoot, I have a toothache right now that I am pretending isn't there because I don't want a root canal!) However, I have never been any good at pushing away or compartmentalizing emotional pain. Because of that, I've always ended up HAVING to deal with it. Which in the long run has been a blessing.
But, so true, there is no one to yell for. I tried but it didn't work.

Love....

An nyoung haseyo said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
An nyoung haseyo said...

I avoid pain. I usually see it as something that needs to be fixed. Recently I had to have a "procedure" done and the nurse told me that part of it would be painful. While on the table with the Dr. working on me, I used my belly breathing and tried to stay present even though I knew it would be easier to fly out of my body. I'm good at that--been doing it my whole life when things get uncomfortable. But somehow I knew the shock of coming back into my body would make the pain worse in the long run. I stayed in, kept breathing and was surprised how much more centered I felt after the dr. finished. You are such a great writer and you put words to my experience too. Thank you.

lucy said...

"How might you be called to pause with your pain today?" not until i read your words today, have i been able to put into context what i am being called to do during this lenten season. "pausing with pain" sometimes i can identify it and other times, i am just called to pause. the good news is i'm listening to the call (at least i think i am).

so glad to read these words of yours and recent posts also... it's good to share. xoxo

Rebecca Johnson said...

An nyoung, How interesting that you have the choice about whether to stay in your body or to fly away and that knowing you could avoid the pain, you chose instead to be present with it. I hope that I will learn to pay loving attention to even the pains that I could ignore.

Thanks for being here.

Love....

Rebecca Johnson said...

An nyoung, How interesting that you have the choice about whether to stay in your body or to fly away and that knowing you could avoid the pain, you chose instead to be present with it. I hope that I will learn to pay loving attention to even the pains that I could ignore.

Thanks for being here.

Love....

Rebecca Johnson said...

Lucy,

I, too, feel that it is such a season for listening. I am so glad that we have this community around us to help us listen more deeply.

Blessings on all of your pauses.

Love....