When I look at the rich and diverse ways that I have worked with people, and the rich and diverse group of people I have worked with, it might seem difficult to really wrap my head around the question “what do you do?” But when I lay everything out and look for the common thread, what I find is that the practice of loving my pain is at the core of my personal healing practice and the work I do with everyone: from the child welfare service I did for years, to the support I offered women faced with cancer diagnoses, to men and women struggling with co-dependent relationships, to healing from heartache, to physical and medical challenges. Pain that was physical, pain that was mental, pain that was emotional and spiritual suffering as well.
When it comes right down to it, we are here in our bodies. Regardless of our beliefs about why or what happens after the body goes, we are conscious beings inside physical bodies and the reality of that physical existence includes pain.
Most pain, I have found, comes from separation. Otherness, abandonment, neglect, distance, there are lots of different levels of separation and lots of different ways it manifests, but when we feel disconnected from self, others, the body, Source, we feel pain. Ironically, pain frequently inspires us to want to pull away and distance ourselves from the discomfort, which leads to more separation and more pain.
My work, which I’ve found to be surprisingly powerful, effective, gentle and fast (sometimes verging on the miraculous), focuses on shifting the consciousness . . . doing a u-turn, and going right into that pain as fully and as deeply as possible. I’ve found that connecting with this difficult part of the self is the most powerful and long-term way of transforming that pain into something better. Usually, in fact, it can become the most celebrated part of the self.
This practice started when I was 11 years old, dealing with intense menstrual cycle cramps (which I had at the very early age of 10). I was a part of a program for “gifted students,” and had learned a sort of self-hypnosis technique that was the seed of my guided imagery practice. It was called a “fantasy trip,” and included consciously relaxing each part of the body and then going into a beautiful fantasy world I made up with my imagination. When I started having cramps that felt beyond my ability to cope, I would do the fantasy trips, but sometimes found that this did not take me out of my pain. I didn’t realize it at the time, but the solutions I sought would be the foundation of the work I now so effectively do not only for myself but with countless others to help them.
I started going right into the pain and asking it what it needed. It would usually tell me, and then I could take care of it and feel better.
This practice became much more conscious and more refined as I got older and studied Buddhist Insight Meditation and other methods of visualization and pain management. It is a natural part of my personal practice, so much so that it is almost automatic for myself. And it is the foundation of what I do with my clients who have found emotional, mental, spiritual and physical relief from pain, suffering and all sorts of stress.
I have been blessed with good health and a body that does not frequently experience a lot of pain, and so I had not, for a while, been challenged to really test the limits of my ability to turn into pain that is really powerful . . . not for a very long time, that is. But recently, I was given the opportunity to test the whole practice of moving into pain.
I was riding my bicycle down a winding narrow road when I came upon an injured squirrel. I slowed down and wanted to possibly stop to see if I could help it. As I got closer, the squirrel was alarmed and bolted towards me, then in a panic bolted the other direction. In a few split seconds in response to all of this, I rode my bike to the very edge of the road (which was at the edge of a little drop off that went down into a drainage ditch about 15 feet down). WIthout any warning, the asphalt and dirt gave way under my tire and in a flash, I was headed down the steep slope with my bike.
As I tumbled, I could hear myself saying “Oh, this isn’t good,” but I relaxed and allowed myself to seek the softest solution for each contact with the ground. When I finally came to a stop, I chose to just lay there. Not try to jump up, which is very common for people in an accident. I laid there and just breathed. My first response was to just breathe and come into my breath. As I did this I felt a panic and throbbing in my left hand and my left knee where I’d taken the worst impact. I was out of my body and couldn’t really feel anything but a throb that was filled with fear and trauma. As I tried to figure out what to do, I realized that I needed to take my own advice and bring my full attention to my pain. For just a brief moment, the fear said “No way! That’s going to hurt! You may have broken your hand and badly injured your knee. This is too messed up to handle. Just distract yourself until someone comes to help you,” but I knew that I was probably the best help I could have, so I allowed my breath to carry my consciousness to the pain that was screaming for help. I started to feel my hand and then my knee and they were in acute pain. I kept an even and deep breath and just focused on the intense pain that was shouting at me from my body. I started to do Reiki, and gently held my left hand with my right hand, and just laid there and started to open up my heart and call in as much love as possible. I started to notice that the sun was shining and I could feel it on my face. I took a moment to remove my bike helmet (thank goodness for it!) and allowed myself to get as comfortable as possible. I then just continued to lay there, breathing into the pain and sending it as much love as possible. Adding to it, the sweet warmth of the sun. Then I noticed I could hear the birds singing and I took that into my breath and felt a sense of joy in my heart. I realized that, no matter what the reality was of my injuries, I was alive and able to appreciate the birds singing and the sun on my face and so I got a big smile on my face and sent that smile into the pain too.
I then realized that the poor squirrel was up there on the road suffering too, so I started to send some of my Reiki to it, and as I brought my consciousness outside of myself, I realized there was a man walking down the road towards me. I continued to just lay there and love myself as much as possible and he walked by, looked at me, smiled and continued on. He had no idea that I had just taken a nasty spill on my bike or that I was laying there, not because I wanted a nice little break half-way down the steep hill for a little sun-bathing, but because I was injured. I got an even bigger smile and reassured myself that if I appeared to be perfectly happy and natural laying there, then I was probably going to be alright.
I gave myself plenty of time to fully return all of my consciousness to my body. After a little while (time definitely dissolved into the experience) instead of the panicked, distant throbbing, I felt the very real pain of my injuries, which told me that I had fully re-entered my body and could move safely. Gently, slowly, and cautiously, I sat up and looked at my body. I looked at my hand, which was swollen. My left knee had a huge goose egg on it. I gently moved my fingers on my left hand. They were sore and stiff, but they moved without excruciating pain, so I knew I wasn’t going to need a doctor for that. I gently bent my knee and it seemed to be alright too. I continued the Reiki until it felt like time to get up and go home. I gingerly ambled up the steep slope. My bike had, luckily, stayed at the top of the road (only now it was upside down and somehow facing the opposite direction I was biking), so I picked it up, made sure it was rideable and then looked for the squirrel. He had run off the road and was hiding in a bush close by. I knew he was way to frightened for me to approach and offer help, so I said a prayer for his well-being and got on my bike and road home.
I did all the good things to assist my body. I put ice on my swollen parts, took an epsom salt bath, gave myself Rescue Remedy flower essences, and rest. I was really amazed to find that I could walk normally, without pain. My hand was quickly fully functional (well, lifting heavy things took a while), and the most amazing thing was that I had almost no bruising, and very little aches in the following days.
Now, in my days as a child welfare worker, I actually studied injuries and how they progress (for forensics evidence), and so I was certain I was going to have some SHINERS! But there wasn’t anything that was very visible without being pointed out. I did have some obvious road rash, but the injuries appeared to be incredibly mild; not at all in synch with the big hits my body took and the initial pain I was feeling. The craziest thing is that I bruise easily. I can have a deep dark indigo bruise that I don’t even remember because I just didn’t feel it happen. There is no logical reason why I was able to go dancing just 2 days later, do yoga (with postures that put me on my knees) and just go on as though nothing had happened. There’s no logical reason why I have almost no bruising almost a week after this accident. And yet, it’s true. I am almost completely healed from something I thought I might need to get help for.
I am so grateful I had this opportunity to test myself and really take this practice to a deep and undeniable place.
I know it seems absolutely counter-intuitive, but going into the pain and giving it as much love as possible, in my experience, has only ever brought powerful, and sometimes miraculous healing. Whether it’s physical, emotional, mental, or spiritual.