Being with physical pain
Types of pain
There are four primary types of pain each having their own flavor of expression. Physical pain is the most obvious being that of the production of unpleasant sensations in the the body. It often deeply activates our survival mechanisms and more primitive, reactive brain structures. Emotional pain is experienced when our feelings get hurt or we feel unloved or unloveable. This is less connected with our immediate survival and more with our sense of a personal self and inherent worthiness. Mental pain is the experience we have when we’re trying to force or insist that life to be a particular way, when we argue with what is and can’t see outside of a limited perspective. This is often connected with who we are in the world, what we want to accomplish and how we are perceived by others. Lastly spiritual pain is that which we feel when we tap into the collective at large and feel the suffering of a group or community. Spiritual pain is the least personal of all the experiences of pain, but it tends to invoke a high desire towards service towards others when felt.
Though none of the pains that we experience are necessarily easy to be with I find that physical pain can sometimes be the most challenging for us. Our relationship with physical pain is such that we feel the threat to our survival through its expression. Most of us have subtle, or not so subtle, beliefs in place that to allow ourselves to feel physical pain may ensue our demise. Even if our higher brain centers know this is not necessarily the case, the lower primitive survival structures take precedence and rule our reactions.
Due to the perceived threat to our survival that physical pain activates inside of our psyche we have a higher tendency to protect or guard ourselves from this type of pain. This creates a hyper-vigilance which activates our sympathetic (fight/flight) nervous system, creates massive amounts of tension and hijacks our awareness. In this state of being our capacity to recognize that we are not the pain and that the pain does not control us is quite limited. We feel consumed by it and have lost awareness of anything else.
Mastering the primitive nervous system
Coming back into connection with yourself
Ultimately we must become the master of this primitive survival response of our nervous system so that we can learn to be present with physical pain rather than consumed by it. When we guard against physical pain we wall off our awareness from that particular location within our body. Walling off awareness creates a sense of disconnection from that expression. When we perceive disconnection we feel powerless because the expression is something other than us. When something seems other than us the mind perceives it to be an external problem and often goes into trying to figure out the solution to that problem. This is a rabbit hole without resolve. You will constantly be looking for and trying the next best magical cure.
When instead you begin to create a connection with this aspect of your self that’s expressing as a painful sensation you begin to realize your power again. You realize that you can be with this expression too. That you can even move into and towards it rather than away from it. That you don’t have to protect yourself from it, but rather that you can experience it.
It is through this and through realizing your power and thus your capacity to work with these sensations that you can come back into oneness with yourself and with that which was previously perceived to be other than you. This is how all healing happens in every category of pain. In this way you begin to master those primitive survival responses of your nervous system. Rather than letting them run the show of your life you develop greater awareness of your self beyond them and with that new options for how you can engage with these painful sensations begins to open up. With that you stop seeing pain as the enemy that’s overtaking you and you discover how you can work with whatever sensation arises. In this working together communication happens. Vital communication. Communication that is required for all systems to function and work coherently towards a common vision, in this case a physical vehicle that moves with ease.
All healing happens through connection and coming back into oneness with yourself. When we forget our wholeness we appear to ourselves to be broken. From the perception of brokenness no healing arises, only further brokenness. To join with what’s present (even physical pain), rather wall yourself off from it, creates balance, harmony and an optimal environment for you to thrive within.
Dr. Amanda Hessel, Chiropractor, Network Spinal Analysis & Somato-Respiratory Integration, Boulder, Colorado