7 life lessons from back pain

I was all set to write another post on blogging a couple of weeks ago, when I threw my back out. Not for the first time…but this was unlike any other episode. Excruciating spasms. Unable to stand up on my own. Putting on socks? Forget it.

I’ve been thinking about a good friend who was in near-constant back pain for months. Most health care practitioners were unable to help, and she eventually had surgery. I remember meeting with her while she was struggling with pain. I see now that I was unable to be truly present with her. I wanted there to be a solution: I wanted her to discover the emotional root of her issue, the ‘why’ of it.

Artist: Maxine Noel

And now, as I write these words, I realize I don’t know the ‘why’ of my own pain, and how presumptuous it was to think I could know it for anyone else. But I have come to some insights about what this experience is teaching me personally.

Listening to my body’s warning signals: as mentioned, it’s not the first time I’ve thrown my back out. I’d had warning signs for years, and knew what I needed to do to prevent future pain from happening. But I always put it off. This time, my body made sure I was paying attention.

I am vulnerable: I never knew just how much I need my lower back. Now I need help with so much. I’ve had to reach out to friends and loved ones for assistance with the most simple of tasks. I’m not used to this, and it is humbling.

Which brings me to Gratitude: I am blessed that I have people in my life to help me, and who ask nothing in return. This is no small thing, and it’s probably the biggest gift of all.

Compassion: I think of all those who don’t have caring support. I see where I’ve missed opportunities to be compassionate and helpful. When we’re feeling good and healthy, it can be hard to understand what it’s like to be in pain, especially chronic pain. I wanted to fix my friend’s problem by helping her discover the emotional root, but that wasn’t what she needed. She needed to feel validated and understood for what she was feeling in that moment.

Meds can be a good thing: Is there an emotional root to my pain? Probably. Low back pain is suggested to indicate a lack of support. And I have felt that, for many years. But it’s interesting that the pain is also revealing to me the support I do have. Beyond the mind/body connection and my holistic practices, I’m grateful for the medication that’s reducing my pain. This is noteworthy, as I’ve always been somewhat anti-medication – you wouldn’t even find an Advil in my home – and had a bit of an ego about that.

I am not in control. I can play my part in my healing, but my body is on its own timeline and will recover at its own pace. This has required patience and surrender that I’m not accustomed to. Forcing anything is only going to set me back.

Self-care is a priority: I’ve never missed so much work, or relied on others to take care of me. I notice how guilty I feel about it. Thoughts that I’m a burden on others, that I’m taking ‘too long’ to get better, surface repeatedly. No one has given me this message. It’s been eye-opening to realize just how hard it is to take care of myself first.

This entire experience has been very humbling, and I’m learning to trust that my body knows what it’s doing, even when my mind objects. I’m thankful that I’ve had no choice but to slow down and listen.

finding jewels in the shadow

A couple of weeks ago a dear friend sent me an email asking my opinion on something Abraham-Hicks related. Normally I’d respond right away, excited to have a discussion, but I haven’t listened to their teachings in months. I’ve been in a more…reflective state.

I was recently given these words of wisdom by another soul sister, who received them years ago from a wise woman elder: “Know your cycles.” Since leaving my job a few months ago, I’m really feeling this message. Quitting has had a domino effect; pretty much everything else in my life has shifted as a result. And all the energy it took to maintain an unfulfilling daily routine now has the space to breathe, to release.

I haven’t had the motivation to carry out many of the things that seemed so possible, so exciting, just a few short months ago. My body just wants to rest. Know your cycles. I can no longer ignore what my body is commanding me to look at. Stuff I thought I’d already dealt with, time and again. Memories from childhood. Buried emotions. The shadow.

I love Abraham-Hicks; their words have brought much comfort and joy into my life. But with Law of Attraction teachings, there can be a tendency to focus so much on the positive, that we mask our so-called negative emotions. We must be ‘doing it wrong’ if we’re feeling depressed. We fear that if we focus on the uncomfortable stuff, we’ll stay stuck there, and continue to manifest more of it.

jewelinshadow

There’s a term I’ve been hearing a lot lately: spiritual bypassing. Using spirituality to avoid dealing with painful emotions. We want to experience ascension and enlightenment, but not all the murky shit along the way.

Many spiritual teachers speak of the shadow – those parts of ourselves we long ago deemed unacceptable, and therefore denied and suppressed. In our spiritual evolution, we can’t avoid going into the shadow. If we haven’t integrated it – brought those buried parts of ourselves into conscious awareness – sooner or later it will show up. Even (especially?) if we’ve been on the spiritual path for years.

Personally, I thought I was so done with the ‘inner child’ stuff. I’ve wanted to focus on the present, think positive, move on already! But it’s largely my mind that’s been dictating the healing timeline. My body still feels the old pain and memories – and only through being completely present with them, staying with them for however long is needed, can they be released. There are no shortcuts.

In my last post I wrote that I’ve never developed a meditation practice, and I’m now being called to do so. For a long time I feared that if I looked within, I’d find nothing. And there was deep grief (and terror) in that. Those early experiences of feeling insignificant, not belonging anywhere on this planet, being disconnected, never really left me.

For most of my life, I haven’t been truly living. Yes, I’ve had moments of joy, adventure, and spiritual fulfillment…but it’s been somewhat surface. I’ve been existing, but not experiencing deep, vital, vibrant aliveness. I know there are many out there who can relate.

And for me it is no longer acceptable to half-live. I’m faced with all this in a very real way as an unexpected health issue has caught me a little off guard, throwing all aspects of my life into sharper focus. I know it’s the Divine’s loving way of getting my attention, nudging me to re-discover our connection. Books, teachers, tools can help…but ultimately it’s all within me.

I’m grateful for everything that’s transpiring. I’m getting that only by being present with my painful emotions can I ever feel truly alive in this life. The shadow taps us into our depths, and in those depths something far more powerful and brilliant is awakened.