January 14, 2009

Ask a Facilitator: Why Do I Still Experience Pain?

Q: I know I am not this identity or the body, yet I was in a lot of pain last night. How can one who knows this have so much pain?

A: Here's a favorite old limerick, which I've edited slightly: (The original was about a Christian Scientist, and didn't scan quite right for this old English major.)

A nondual sage from Caneel
Once said, "Although pain isn't real,
When I sit on a pin, and it punctures my skin,
I dislike what I fancy I feel!"

Step hard on Eckhart Tolle's toe and I guarantee you he'll at least wince. So what? It's not a dilemma unless you say it is. I think it's more important to look at what we're thinking and feeling around pain than to try and dissociate from the body.

If I experience fear around having pain, that's the problematical body-identification, not the experience of pain itself. I'm believing that if the body hurts or isn't functioning optimally then "I" am not okay now, or it's going to get worse, or it will never go away, or I'll be disabled and that would be terrible. To fear pain, and look to "enlightenment" in order to transcend it, is not present-moment awareness at all; it's a story of the past projected onto the story of a future. I can "know" intellectually that "I'm not the body," and I can have had glimpses of the truth of this...but any fear around what could happen if I experience being in the body means I still believe I am a "me." Any thought that this shouldn't be happening just grounds me in "me-ness."

For her part, Byron Katie, who doesn't call herself enlightened, says, "You don't wake up forever. It's now. Now. Now." If you buy that, then attachment to a belief, or non-attachment, is only momentary—which makes sense to me, because there isn't a future. Even "now" is always over; we always begin again.

I haven't heard that the end of suffering means the end of physical pain. Ramana Maharshi apparently experienced physical pain; he just didn't experience it as a problem; he said words to the effect of, "let the body do what it does." The stressful thoughts about the physical sensations are worse than the sensations and they can, as you've likely experience, even seem to exacerbate pain.

Katie has said, "Pain is a friend. It's nothing I want to get rid of, if I can't. I'm a lover of what is. It's a sweet visitor; it can stay as long as it wants to. (And this doesn't mean I won't take the Tylenol.)"

I've witnessed Katie in recent years having all kinds of physical ailments...most recently, painful spasms in her feet which left her unable to walk for some time. Nothing, not even spinal injections, relieved the pain for many months, and I heard from her that she was just fine through it all: in pain, not suffering...because each pain, whether physical or emotional, always comes to pass and not to stay.

If it serves, you might like to do The Work on "I shouldn't feel pain." Why, in a friendly universe, is it actually a good thing to experience pain? I invite anyone who feels that pain is a problem to go deeply into this inquiry and post your experience here in the comments.

©2009 by Carol L. Skolnick; all rights reserved.


Anonymous said...

I shouldn't be in pain
1. no
3. i get nervouse even before the pain has really kicked in. i/ my body freezes. i hold my breathe/ it becomes shallow. i get depressed: oh, know! not again... i remember all the times i was experiencing this sort of pain. i believe being a woman is hardship/ unfair. i become frustrated. i feel like a victim/ weak/ close to tears. i blame myself: i must have done sth. wrong (wrong diet or even worse: committed a sin of whatever kind -it's God's punishment like the bible says. so i can't really escape the pain/ victim again. i hate my body for its weakness. i abandon myself. i am in a the-pain-will-last-forever-state/ pain is all i am able to see. i don't act. i hate others/ push them away/ feel like nobody understands what i am going trough. at the same time i try to hide that i am in pain like it is shameful. i become very demanding: others have to be there for me and don't they dare not to. i turn into a tyrant. i push myself/ don't allow myself to rest. without the thought i fear the pain would overwhelm me; i would loose control; that it would last FOREVER. with the thought i don't see that the pain hasn't even really started yet; i don't see that i have choices; i don't see that i am supported even in pain.
4. it would be just another experience. i would be open to it/ open arms. see that it is not in my control and therefore can't be my fault. i would be out of God's business. i would be soft/ understanding. i could ask others if they want to hold me. i would be full of love. i would do whatever i need for me/ take the best care possible
TA: i should be in pain
1. that's reality right now
2. i really don't have a clue what my body needs to express itself
3. is it really pain?
if the universe is friendly why is it good that i am in pain?
- i get to question the/ my old Adam and Eve story
- i get an excuse to do nothing/ lie in bed
- others care for me (sometimes)
- if it stops (and so far it always has) i get to enjoy life in a way i had forgotten before the pain
TA: i shouldn't be in pleasure
- that's definitely something i am telling myself (guilt-tripping myself)-another possibility for inquiry
- sometimes it is too much and just doesn't feel good (for what ever reason); like when i procrastinate things for school
- when it is not a real pleasure like drinking coffee and having stomach issues or spending money i don't really have
TA: my thinking shouldn't be in pain.
- it has a tendency to be on the pain side a lot more then on the pleasure side. i.e. what it remembers about situations.
- it is really painful to only see one half.
- sometimes it is like the Rolling Stone song: paint it black.
- if my thinking is in pain and it shouldn't it seems like time to do The Work; like now: this post and invitation to post my work was the perfect thing to do! thank you :)

Amazume said...

Indeed, fear of pain causes shallow breathing, which causes stress hormones to kick in (like adrenaline, norepiphrine, oxytocin). These act as neurotransmitters to the brain and central nervous system. A rush is felt and more oxygen is released in the blood. Hence an increased pain sensation is felt. Amazingly, when breathing deeply, one begins to feel centered and these same hormones/neurotransmitters now act differently and smooth out body functions. When we accept pain as a friend/messenger, breathe into the parts of the body where pain is present for 8 counts, and hold the breath for 8 counts, exhale for 8 counts (yogic breath), dopamine and serotonin levels rise (happy hormones). Now a sense of control is felt. One gets to stay on top of the pain. The pain no longer takes over.

In pregnancy these hormones are naturally increased which makes it entirely possible to have a positive natural birth experience without pain medication.
I have been fortunate to give birth to three children and learned all the above first hand.

When I was in labor with my first one I went for a walk and suddenly found myself in pain during a contraction that lasted at least two minutes. Adrenaline had kicked in because I exerted myself, my initial reaction (shallow breathing) caused me to feel literally whipped from the inside out. My midwife reminded me to breathe deeply, but somehow I had this panicky thought that "well, I have never given birth before, and maybe I just can't". The trip back home and taking the stairs were sheer torture. With every contraction, which came every 2 minutes and lasted 2 minutes, I folded double.

Back in my home I entered a birthing tub we had installed in our living room. Finally I was able to relax to such a degree that the happy hormones reigned over my body and mind. The contractions slowed down a lot.
Eventually the midwife suggested that I leave the tub, as I was 4 cm dilated and it could be several hours at this rate before we would reach the 10 cm dilation required to prepare for delivery of the baby. Instead of saying anything negative like: you are not progressing enough, not enough dilation, too slow, etc., the midwife just suggested that this was an excellent opportunity to catch up on some sleep, as it was 5:00 am and neither my husband nor I had slept a wink since 10:00 pm the night before when my water broke (membranes ruptured). So I went to bed, my husband next to me, massaged my back with every contraction. His loving touch helped me relax through everything and I was able to sleep quite a few hours. Imagine this, my body just did its own thing and I SLEPT through my transition, which supposedly when you read recounts of other women's experiences is the hardest part of labor.

I woke up at 12:30 pm. The midwife was in the bedroom with us when I got up to "go to the bathroom". She quickly examined me and confirmed that dilation was now at 10 cm. The only thing to be pooped out was in fact, the baby!
I asked the midwife how long it would take from here on, and she said: "It depends: some women need a few hours to do this part, and others do it in a half hour." I decided right there and then, I was going to have this baby within a half hour. I forgot I even had a birthing tub in the living room. Instead I squatted on the tarp covering the rug behind the bed and started pushing at 12:35. At 1:05 exactly my baby was born.

The next two labors and deliveries were shorter and as I had no problems staying on top of the pain and already trusted giving birth is something I'm quite good at. I told myself: "My body is designed to have children".

I often compare the first birth experience to the time I used to go mountain climbing, and just before you get to the top, there is this transitional stage where you feel you just can't. But then you see how close you are, and decide to go for it. That's the perfect time for adrenaline to kick in and push you over the edge.

Funny thing is that during the labor of my firstborn I had a transition of the mind. Adrenaline pushed "me" over the edge (of reason). I couldn't do this, even though my mother and all of my aunts (and I have many) told me their positive birth stories). It may be a good idea to mention that I'm from the Netherlands where natural (home) birth is often the norm. I noticed how adrenaline was not my friend when I was in this state of non-acceptance and caused me to feel beat-up.

Once I found myself in a relaxed state, I was able to accept and trust the birthing process, and actually slept through the physical transition of labor, without any drugs. Just love and trust. It IS that simple!

The rush that is felt after giving birth is much like reaching the top of a mountain (the world!). And much like having an orgasm. All the hormones and endorphins that kick in are the same in these different circumstances.

Just beautiful how body, mind and soul can work together like a perfect symphony if we allow ourselves to get out of our own way. Just the right chemistry is at work in the body, even in extreme conditions (as long as one makes a choice to accept these conditions, ride the waves and trust the process) in the end rendering a most rewarding high of having reached the top.

Btw, on the rare occasion I experience a headache, I never take Tylenol or any other pain meds. I make take Traumeel/Traumed (a homeopathic remedy containing arnica and other ingredients that address the cause of the symptoms. I believe in it, and of course then it works.