Hello, Pain

© Leoblanchette | Dreamstime.com

© Leoblanchette | Dreamstime.com

One recent morning, I woke up to find that my left ankle was swollen and in pain. I was getting ready to go to work, hiking and camping for the weekend, and I was not happy that my ankle was hurting. Truthfully, I was scared. My mind went to a million places at once. What happened? What's wrong? Should I go to work? Should I stay home? How can I take care of myself and still get to work and do my job?

I applied a homeopathic cream to reduce the swelling. I took an over-the-counter anti-inflammatory pain reliever. I wrapped my ankle and went to work. 

How many of us have done that before? We carry on and push forward and go about our day even when our body is giving us clear signs that something is up. I modified my work load for the weekend, skipped one of the hikes and took it easy as best I could. I was okay. And, I wasn't really listening to my body.

Even when I returned home, I kept going. I assumed my ankle would get better and did not pay it much attention. I rested, sort of. I convinced myself it was getting better, the swelling was going down and my range of motion was increasing. This was true, but clearly my ankle still hurt and was still swollen, days later. I could not walk normally or put my full weight on my foot.

Listening to Our Bodies

Perhaps you are not like me and you would have gone to the doctor that first day. Sometimes I do that, too. This time it took me a full week.

As a Somatic Therapist, here's where it gets interesting. I went to the doctor because I finally slowed down enough to listen to my body. Literally. I asked my ankle if it wanted to go to the doctor and I heard, "yes." Clearly. From my ankle itself, not from my head.

Intellectually, I had a sense that it would be helpful for me to have someone else examine my ankle. However, it was not until I really heard my ankle's response that I went to the doctor.

The doctor's visit itself was partially helpful because it ruled out certain possibilities, nothing broken, nothing strained. Okay, that's what I suspected all along. Now I could turn my attention to what I know how to do, which is to get to know the experience in my ankle and listen to what it wants to tell me. 

Alligator in the Ankle

Throughout the week, I had been sensing into my ankle on and off, but only half paying attention. Twice I asked if there was an image in my ankle and twice I saw an alligator clamping down on the joint. In those moments, I did not want to know anything more about that, so I moved on to whatever else I was doing.

© Artemfurman | Dreamstime.com

© Artemfurman | Dreamstime.com

I started to realize I wanted someone to be with me as I got to know more about this alligator. That's why I was avoiding it, I didn't want to explore it by myself. It felt like too much.

So I got help. With the skillful and caring presence of Jessamyn Tallyn, who is a practitioner of Jin Shin Jyutsu and Manual Osteopathy, I was able to hear more clearly what was going on in my ankle. I saw the bigger picture and had a better sense of what was preventing me from grounding and standing fully in my left side. She helped me release something and bring in love and gentleness, which encouraged the flow of energy. Something started to shift.

My sense is that all of the ways we have of caring for and listening to our bodies are part of the healing process. In my case, I needed to go to the doctor for diagnosis, or at least to rule out certain possibilities. In some way, that was the beginning of me taking my ankle seriously and listening to what it had to say. That was the beginning of my healing process. Our bodies have so much to tell us when we are ready to listen. 

On one level, my ankle continues to heal and feel better. On another level, I gained something else, too. The best way I can describe it is to say that I retrieved some part of me. Through listening to my body and understanding the ways I was constricting and holding myself back, I was able to let some of that go and regain a sense of fullness and power.

Bringing Kindness to Pain

When you see a tree growing in the woods, do you say to yourself, that tree sure could be straighter or taller or more tree-like? Do you pick on it and find fault? Or do you appreciate it for its beauty, its shade on a hot day, or its display of colors in the fall? 

Personally, I love trees. I see trees and I am so struck by something I cannot even name. I am filled with awe and wonder. I react to all kinds of trees in this way, especially if they are growing in unexpected places - like coming out of a rock - or are particularly snarled.

If trees are not your thing, what is? What do you love? What is something that you deeply appreciate when you see it, something you greet with care no matter how it appears? What touches your heart?

Now You

Before we go on, notice how it feels to deeply care for something or someone. How would you greet them? What would you say or do? Can you imagine being gentle and caring? Can you imagine loving them with all of their snarly imperfections?

Photo by Kate Grigg

Now, can you imagine greeting yourself in this same way? For some of us, that can be challenging, especially if we are in pain. We may feel impatient, frustrated or annoyed. That is absolutely understandable. When I am in pain, my first unconscious reaction is usually some version of "what is wrong now?" said in a not-so-nice way. I have to practice bringing kindness to myself and to my pain. 

The Practice

Here is what strikes me about this. If I am in pain and mad about it, I am fighting with myself. Not only am I uncomfortable because I am in pain, I am uncomfortable because I am moving away from the pain in some way. Maybe I am tensing around it or constricting my muscles. I am wishing the pain were not there and doing something on a body level to try not to feel it. And I am cranky about it.

If, however, I pause and remember that I could greet my pain the way I greet the trees I love, my experience changes. The pain may or may not feel exactly as it did. Oftentimes, I soften and the pain shifts or lessens to some degree. Even if that is not the case, I still feel more at ease because I am no longer fighting a part of me.

This can be a challenging practice. In my experience, it is worth it. I like to think of it this way: each time we can bring kindness to ourselves, we are building a reservoir. One drop at a time is all it takes. Over time, the reservoir grows and it becomes easier to access.

You do not have to be in pain to try this. At anytime you can imagine a drop of love being absorbed in your body and in your reservoir of kindness. As you do this, your capacity to love you grows.

May you be at peace