What happens when Pain visits a little too often, a little too long? Like an obnoxious guest who overstays her welcome, talking and talking without listening, eating and eating without offering. Well perhaps this is uncomfortable, but just bearable. After all, it is not all that uncommon. And then perhaps, what if Pain decides to visit a great deal too often and a great deal too long? What if the visitor decides not to leave? What if the talking and the eating just don’t stop – on and on and on. What are we to do then? What happens when we are held hostage?
Do we have any control over pain’s inevitable and suffocating visitations? According to the Stoic Epictetus,
Some things are in our control, while others are not. We control our opinion, choice, desire, aversion, and, in a word, everything of our own doing. We don’t control our body, property, reputation, position, and, in a word, everything not of our own doing. Even more, the things in our control are by nature free, unhindered and unobstructed, while those not in our control are weak, slavish, can be hindered, and are not our own.Epictetus, Enchiridion, 1.1-2
The pain of loss, grief, depression, neurochemistry, external events such as motor car accidents and more – these are not in our control. This may be disheartening or even crushing when fully realised. Why am I forced to sit by while Pain visits the full reign of hell upon me? Why am I not allowed to eject Pain, to revoke visitation rights? How can I escape? Why am I not even permitted to escape my own home with what little I have left? This is a brutal invasion!
As the Stoic relates, the sense of control sought in our bitter fight against Pain is won in our thinking, our choices and our exposure to that which will help us reframe our attitude toward our relationship with pain. Ultimately, our gains are made in our own relationship with and to pain. To those experiencing true, unadulterated suffering, this idea may be received as trite or it may even be impossible to imagine. However, even where chronic mental, emotional or physical pain are involved, the ‘Enemy’ that is Pain can change into something new, something more approachable, something we can negotiate with and engage with in a more balanced relationship. Pain does not have to remain the Enemy, it can become the Teacher, the Healer, even the Beatific Vision. Never losing it’s identity as Pain, and never lessening or coming under our control, Pain’s visits – even those long, excruciating and seemingly never-ceasing visits, can be experienced differently, without fear and without loss of control. The transformation and growth, even healing, that Pain can bring – if we let it – is illustrated in the lines below.
What is pain but a reminder that we are
grinding into the ground
flung into the fight
grating against the wound
slicing into the light
walking the two worlds
lost in daylight, found in night
taking the clean medicine
gaining vision, losing sight.
There are practical steps to forging this new relationship with pain. These really depend on the individual, but in general it is not an overnight process. Meditative practices, including mindfulness techniques and yoga help many. Exercise and diet/nutrition – as insufficient as that seems in the face of enormous pain – can play a large role in re-negotiating your relationship with Pain. Broadly, relationships, spirituality, talking, creating, music, nature and stillness are all ways to explore this different way of relating to Pain.
I wish you well on your journey. For more information on renegotiating your relationship with Pain, contact me by clicking here.