Living with Chronic Pain
by Diane Linsley
Some time ago, I ran into my old jaw doctor. It had been many
years since the last time I'd seen him. At the end of our brief
conversation, he said, "I'm happy to see you smiling." I don't think
he'd ever seen me smile before.
I've had chronic pain for most of my life, ever since a boy in junior
high broke my jaw. The first few years weren't too bad. But as I got older, the joints began to deteriorate. Eventually, I was sent to one of the top jaw specialists in the country. He tried everything, including two surgeries. But there was no cure.
The doctor told me I was the fifth worst case he'd seen in the state of Utah, and he was surprised I could function at all, considering how bad my x-rays looked. I suspect that he uses my case as an example when he gives lectures at TMJ conferences.
Most people can't imagine what it's like to live with chronic pain. Sadly, some people end up committing suicide or turning to addictive drugs in an effort to escape. Often, they become so deeply depressed and negative about life that nobody can stand to be around them.
Experiencing Chronic Pain
Bill Harris tells the story of an Indian mystic who was dying of throat cancer. In spite of the intense pain, he lived in a state of blissful peace and joy. As his pain increased, his joy also increased. His students asked him, "Are you in pain?" He replied that he was, but it didn't stop him from feeling joy.
When I first heard this story, I hated it. It sounded to me like a lot of sappy baloney. It challenged everything I believed and everything I had experienced up to that point in my life. But I couldn't stop thinking about it. That was before my enlightenment.
Since then, I've learned that pain is not the same as suffering. Suffering is what happens when you project your pain into the future. Pain in the Now is simple pain. It can hurt a lot. It can be debilitating. It can prevent you from doing things that you want to do. But it's just pain.
When you project pain into the future, you think about all the things you will never be able to do again. You think, "Why did God do this to me? Haven't I suffered enough already? He must be punishing me for something I did wrong. I don't deserve to live a normal life like everyone else." These thoughts go around and around in your mind, growing larger every day, driving you to despair.
Your only escape is in the deep stage of sleep. Even your dreams are full of monsters and bad guys. Waking up in the morning feels like being dragged back into hell. Your friends abandon you because you're not fun anymore. Your family tip-toes around you, afraid to do anything that might upset you. Yes, I know all about this agony because I lived like that for fifteen years.
Coping with Chronic Pain
By age 39, I couldn't stand my life anymore. I decided that I would either find a cure for my depression or commit suicide. I got online, looking for answers. That's when I found Holosync meditation, which not only saved my life, but completely changed it.
Eventually, I began to see the paradox I was stuck in. My problem was that I had false expectations, perfectionism, and limiting beliefs. I thought that I could only be happy if I got what I wanted. I also had been raised to believe that if I was a good girl, God would bless me, and I wouldn't have to suffer. And, believe me, I was a very good girl.
Worst of all, I was too perfect - in the immature sense of being very good at one side of each polarity while avoiding the other side. In other words, I had a ton of shadow material.
I was hardworking, obedient, kind, helpful, beautiful, smart and talented. I was so good at these polarities that there was no room for anything else. I couldn't tolerate imperfection in myself, so you can imagine how horrible it was to have a painful disability. I couldn't forgive myself.
In Zen training, teachers give students koans (paradoxes) in order to reveal the ego. The ego consists of false ideas about who you are and the way things should be. My life was the koan of chronic pain.
I also saw that I was worrying too much about the future. With practice, I discovered that I can cope with anything that arises in the Now. Pain only turns into suffering when I project it into the future. When I think about living with pain for the rest of my life, it turns into unbearable agony.
Jesus said, "Sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof." That means that you have enough to deal with in the present moment. Don't try to live your whole life in one day.
I discovered that resisting pain creates more suffering. Resistance includes thoughts such as, "This shouldn't be happening to me." I became aware of my thoughts, emotions and bodily sensations. I never noticed before how tense I was! No wonder I always felt tired and achy all over. It takes an incredible amount of energy to live in resistance.
When we stop resisting what is, it still exists. But it's no longer magnified by the worrying and projecting mind. Eckhart Tolle says, "Suffering is necessary until you realize it is not necessary."
Holosync was especially helpful because it raised my threshold for what I could tolerate. Trauma of any sort can leave you with a low threshold. By balancing the brainwaves, Holosync improves the brain's ability to cope with all sorts of things, including chronic pain. It also increases awareness and the ability to focus your mind.
These days, most people can't tell that I'm in pain, and it's much less than it used to be. I don't let it stop me from doing what I love (like coaching). I only notice the pain when it is unusually intense. Then I ask myself if there's something I need to do about it. Did I forget to take my MSM? Do I need to lay down and rest for a while? If there's nothing I need to do, then I focus on something I enjoy.
Compassion and Chronic Pain
If there is any compensation for suffering, it's that pain shocks you out of complacency and motivates you to keep seeking. Eventually, spiritual practice culminates in a deep compassion for all people. One of the greatest lesson I learned from chronic pain is self-compassion. I tell the story of how this happened in the article, Compassionate Self-Talk. Chronic pain can push you into higher levels of cognitive development as you continually seek for solutions to your problems. One of my favorite books is Grace and Grit by Ken Wilber. Ken describes the experiences of his wife, Treya Wilber, who died of breast cancer at age 42. I appreciate the meaning that Ken puts on the experience. He describes suffering in a deeply personal way, and he explains how it pushed them both into higher levels of awareness and compassion.
Of course, there are still some days when I curse my pain and think to myself, "To hell with compassion!
I would give up all this personal growth if I could only live a normal life."
As I've gotten older, I've begun to realize that there's no escape from pain. And it's not just physical. When I first became a spiritual seeker, I was motivated by the idea that I would eventually find a solution to my pain - even if it was just a new way of understanding it. Now I know that spiritual growth itself causes a type of pain that I never before imagined.
This is the pain of heightened awareness, sensitivity and compassion. Highly evolved people do not experience less pain than others. Sometimes they experience more. But their capacity to handle pain and tranform it into joy increases as they evolve. Pain is fuel for the fire.
Even though there are benefits to suffering, I don't believe that we should suffer unnecessarily when there are other options. One of the best things you can do is reduce your stress levels. Stress causes inflammation, which increases anxiety. Anxiety makes you more sensitive to pain. It's a vicious cycle.
It's also important to eat an anti-inflammatory diet and reduce exposure to toxins. I follow the advice of Anthony William, the Medical Medium.