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.

10 life lessons from mandala painting

Last weekend I stepped out of my comfort zone and into one of the most profound experiences of my life: a 3-day mandala painting course.

It’s hard to put such a deeply healing and transformative experience into words; I’m still basking in the afterglow of it all. It’s not an understatement to say it changed my life. Here’s just some of what I’m very thankful to have learned.

This is Shakti

This is Shakti

1. Everything I need is within. I was the last to pick a canvas. I didn’t rush to get my paints. I was feeling anxious, and had made the conscious decision to be patient and kind with myself. Somehow I knew that whatever was within me would come forth, no matter what external resources I had.

2. I can no longer say ‘I’m not an artist’. This process unlocked the artist in everyone who participated. Many of us were beginners, and each person created their own unique masterpiece. Everyone can do this. We just need the support and tools to draw out our inner creative fire.

3. Mandalas are a portal. We can access deep realms of consciousness when creating or contemplating a mandala. I don’t quite know how it works…but that’s the point. Our logical mind is not in control; we’re perceiving and interpreting from the heart. The process is mystical and ineffable.

4. Art opens people like lotus flowers. It was amazing to watch, and experience in myself, the joy that unfolded over the weekend. I was able to bring forth something that had been waiting for the right moment to express. Everyone was discovering this hidden place within themselves. There was a sense of wonder in the air. New life was being birthed.

5. I created it…but I didn’t. My experience flowed more easily when I let go of thinking of ‘my’ painting, ‘my’ possession – when I dropped the ego. Yes, it emerged from within me…but I like to think of it as a co-creation with a greater essence that is both me and not-me. I couldn’t grip it too tightly.

6. This is life. I felt an overwhelming sense that life could be so much more than mass consciousness programming would have us believe. Being in the zone of creativity and stimulating conversation, free from iPhones and Facebook, was such an immense, life-affirming contrast to the 9-5 matrix I’d become so accustomed to in the past.

7. Mandala painting is therapy. I’m convinced that the act of mixing colours, putting brush to canvas, being in a supportive group, and creating a personal, sacred work of beauty would heal in a weekend what might take years in traditional therapy. The mandala gave me a vision into my own soul.

8. Self-expression is a shared process. Self-expression is not a solitary act. It requires a community to receive it. Creating art with others helped me let go and trust in the group. The group’s presence impacted what I created, whether or not anything was verbally expressed. Communication transpired on an unseen level.

9. Surrender. I became anxious when I thought too far down the line, e.g., the next colour I’d choose and whether it would ‘look good’. There was a fear of screwing things up…anticipating what could go wrong instead of trusting that each layer would be reveal itself in the perfect sequence. I relaxed when I surrendered to what was right in front of me.

10. The Divine Feminine is awakening. She is here. At the beginning of the weekend, we each gave ourselves a name – a symbol for our journey at this point in time. I picked ‘Shakti’. I’d been very much feeling the presence of the Feminine, seeing coral-red colours in my recent meditations. These colours materialized in the mandala without forced effort. Magic!

I am looking forward to painting more…the portal has been opened!