Pain as a Gateway to The Self          
  Pain is inevitable, suffering is optional  –Buddha
A few weeks ago, I was experiencing headaches on a daily basis.  I was quite concerned since that is a RARE occurrence for me.  My pounding head made simple tasks — reading, speaking, and even thinking— extremely difficult. With my upcoming presentation at the Chopra Center on chronic pain, I saw this as a gift from the universe: an opportunity to develop a deeper level of empathy and compassion, and to practice what I preach.  During bouts of pain, I closed my eyes and envisioned looking into the eyes of the participants, my heart wide open embracing life and our shared human experience.  I decided to sleuth out the root cause of the throbbing pain in my head.What I know to be true:

1) Emotions and thoughts have a role in physical pain.
Emotional and physical pain operate identically in the brain.  In “The Challenge of Pain,” Melzack and Wall discuss how brain scans — which measure activity in the brain — have shown that once pain signals reach the brain, three areas light up simultaneously: the limbic system (emotional center), the sensory cortex (which governs sensation), and the cerebral cortex (which organizes thoughts and beliefs).  In other words, in order to work with pain we must look at our emotions, thoughts, beliefs and sensation/physical pain in order to facilitate healing and recovery.
In the past when I had other manifestations of physical pain — like sciatica — emotions and stress were easily identified to be the root cause.  There was no direct correlation between my aching back and a clear event or accident causing the injury.  Then what was the culprit?  Emotions and stress.

2)  Trauma has a role in pain.
Previous traumas (accident, injury, abuse, disease, etc.) can be a cause of the onset of pain AND pain itself can be traumatizing.
In this case, previous traumas did not appear to be relevant to my headache.  The mystery deepened.

3)  Pain can be a gateway to the True Self.  Pleasure is always near.
As we learn to trust and listen to what is arising in the body — as opposed to suppress, repress or be angry about the pain that is arising — we can employ practices that bring about pleasure and deep connection.  Whenever there is pain, pleasure is always around the corner.  It may take more effort and a conscious, mindful presence to locate it, but there always exists a fluid dance between the two. As we simultaneously experience what seem to be opposite ends of the spectrum, we learn to move beyond them towards a place of wholeness, peace and infinite love.  From this place, we realize the True Self.
I experimented with Integrative Restoration (see class offerings below) sessions, feathers, music and touch.  I asked a dear friend of mine to massage my feet.  The purpose was to draw the energy and attention away from my head, create a counter sensation to the constriction and pressure in my head and feel the love in my heart of being cared for.  I felt deeply into the quality of his touch: the pressure, the temperature, the speed.  I brought ALL of my attention to my feet for the duration of the 10-minute massage.  I savored and relished the feeling of pleasure and then revisited the pain.  I sat with both, allowing them to be present as welcomed guests. This significantly reduced the intensity of the pain and brought me to a place of witnessing, acceptance and self-inquiry.

The truth about my pain in this scenario:
Fortunately, I found resolution to my pain after 5 days but the resolution was met with resistance.  Why?  Well, consuming peanut butter out of comfort — instead of hunger — can be quite the dilemma.  It provided perceived comfort.  The texture, taste and feeling of the yummy peanut butter lured me.   I was unwilling to make the connection and take action on the second, third or fourth day — even though it was the only change I had made in my life and it started the same day as the headaches.  When I stopped eating the peanut butter, the headaches ceased to exist!  The feelings and emotions underneath are still present, and we get more and more acquainted every day.  They have important things to say, and I’m listening now — headache and peanut butter free

My experience with pain, both emotional and physical, has been quite a journey. While in the midst of a painful sensation, it can be challenging to access anything other than the lure of what is known in Somatic Experiencing as the “trauma vortex.”  The most valuable lesson I’ve learned has been to journey through — not above, below or around — the pain.  At some point, I thought “journeying through” meant focusing only on the pain, enduring and bearing it until I became exhausted and hopeless.  I’ve come to understand that it is less about the pain itself, rather my experience and identification with the pain.

I created this acronym for you to always remember- Pleasure Always INear ®.

If you are interested in learning more about my work, and holistic treatments for chronic pain, join me at the Chopra Center from September 23, 2013 to September 28, 2013.

With love,