Convergence Healing CHAPTER ONE
The Gift of Pain
Pain can only feed on pain. Pain cannot feed on joy. It finds it quite indigestible.
Where does it hurt?
I know this seems like an odd way to begin a book, but I honestly want to know: Are you, at this very moment, experiencing some kind of pain? Is your heart aching? Are your bones or back bothering you? Is your spirit agitated or restless? I’m guessing that, more than likely, you are murmuring yes.
That’s because pain is the great unifier and leveler; all of us wonderful human beings, no matter how rich, smart, or loved we are, experience debilitating pain at some point in our lives. This pain may be physical, or it may be spiritual or emotional. Or it may be all three. What I’ve come to understand is that pain is one of the most potent forces we will ever encounter, and I’ve devoted my life to helping as many people as I can understand that pain can be a force for good.
So, tell me. Are you in pain?
When I recently posed the question to a circle of friends, the range of responses I received confirmed what I’ve come to know: all of us experience pain in one form or another, and most of us allow our pain to limit our beliefs about who we are and what we can do. Here are a smattering of the responses I received:
“The first thing that comes to my mind is limitation. Not being able to do what I want because of being in too much physical pain.”
“I knew I was in intense pain when I did not feel anything. I could tell it was my body protecting me from something it knew I could not handle yet.”
“The first thing that comes to mind when I think of pain is the horrible pain of addiction—right before I finally waved the white flag. No physical pain has ever come close.”
“The pain of losing a loved one. For me, it was almost unbearable.”
“When I think of pain, I think of being alone. That is the worst possible pain.”
According to data released by the International Association for the Study of Pain and the European Pain Federation and endorsed by the World Health Organization, pain reportedly affects one in five people worldwide in the form of mostly moderate to severe chronic pain. With one-fifth of the globe’s population suffering, it is no wonder that we are forever on the hunt for newer and better ways to secure relief from our pain.
Over two thousand years ago, the early Greeks and Romans were developing rudimentary ideas about the role our brain plays in producing the perception of pain and ways to counteract this influence. In the nineteenth century, opiates such as morphine were widely used to relieve pain, and German chemist Felix Hoffmann developed the first medically useful form of aspirin from a substance in willow bark. Today, aspirin remains the most commonly used pain reliever and is, in and of itself, a billion-dollar global drug business. And then, of course, there are the opioids such as Oxycontin, which remain overly prescribed despite the high risk of addiction. During my own struggle with chronic pain, I was offered but refused many drugs. It wasn’t until I went in and made peace with the person I was while in pain that I was able to find relief from my pain—without ever needing to pick up a substance, get surgery, or in any other way alter my mind or body.
Convergence Healing is about learning to listen to the wisdom your pain has to share, and allowing this wisdom to unlock those parts of yourself that have been shut down, hidden, or otherwise disenfranchised so that you can heal and become whole again.
Pain is the ultimate paradox. When we injure ourselves, we feel broken. And we are broken at those moments, but usually not in the ways that we think. That is because pain can be misleading, distracting, or downright deceiving if we don’t meet it head-on. What you will learn in Convergence Healing is how to face your pain’s power with your own personal power. When you do this, you will realize that you are more than your pain.
What exactly is pain? Is it a cluster of nerve endings that have been traumatized? Is it an unmet need or longing in our hearts? Is it an unhelpful yet deeply entrenched train of thought? A basic, clinical definition describes pain as “the physical feeling caused by disease, injury, or something that hurts the body.” A secondary definition goes a bit further, adding that pain can also be “sadness caused by mental or emotional suffering.”
The Latin word poena, the origin for our English word “pain,” means penalty or suffering inflicted as punishment for an offense. In Greek mythology, Poine was a lesser goddess of retribution, vengeance, and punishment. Many ancient cultures believed pain and disease were punishment for human folly. To rid people of pain, ancient healers used magic and spiritualism in an attempt to appease angry gods, often by engaging in rituals, offerings, and sacrifices that involved a lot of pain. In ancient times, the thinking went: What are you willing to suffer and sacrifice to be rid of your pain?
Today, we think of pain as a symptom that should be eliminated as quickly as possible. We spend a lot of time thinking about how to avoid or not feel our pain. So we turn to drugs, surgery, and a whole host of unhealthy behaviors (drinking, overeating, overspending), believing that if we can just wipe out whatever pain we are feeling, we will be good to go.
Unfortunately, we have it all wrong. Yes, pain is a symptom of something larger that ails us. It is absolutely a messenger of sorts. How will we ever get the message if we shoot (or medicate) the messenger before we have given it a chance to speak? In other words, in our modern world, which favors numbing out over raw, real experience, we are too eager to eliminate pain and so we miss out on gleaning the wisdom it has for us. Paradoxically, when we focus on suppressing our pain without knowing what it really is, we make it all the stronger. This is when physical pain or mental anguish (negative thinking) overwhelm us and become chronic. This is when we lose ourselves to pain.
All of us experience pain. It is a fundamental experience of being a living, breathing person on this planet. There are basically two types of pain we may experience. Acute pain is short, sharp, and often very shocking. This is the kind of pain we experience when we are in a car accident or when we are struck by an intense medical condition, such as appendicitis. Acute pain is usually associated with physical injury, like the excruciating pain of breaking a bone or the crushing experience of having a car door slammed on your finger. Cells in the injured tissue at the site of impact emit chemicals that activate local nerve endings. The stirred-up nerve endings send an electrochemical impulse via the nerves to the spinal cord. The impulse then travels to the thalamus part of the brain and continues on to its destination, the cerebral cortex. This type of pain is relatively straightforward—and short-lived. It is a complex set of neurological reactions that give us a very clear message. Ouch! Stop what you are doing and pay attention to me!
Chronic pain is the more insidious kind of pain because it tends to outwit and outlast whatever Western treatments we throw at it. Typically starting out as a physical reaction to some form of accident or trauma, chronic pain, whatever its origin, tends to latch onto our psyches with a vengeance, taking us hostage. Our pain, if left untreated and allowed to become chronic, can take us over—body, mind, and soul. If we are not careful, it can actually become us.
We humans tend to experience pain in the three most important realms of our existence: the physical, the emotional, and the spiritual. Sometimes pain that begins in one realm bleeds into another and we experience pain on several levels at once. For example, a woman who was abused suffers deep emotional and psychic pain, but she may also experience physical pain in her lower back or pelvic floor. A man who was unable to protect his family from physical harm may suffer from seemingly unrelated severe neck and shoulder pain, which masks the true source of his pain—his core emotional trauma. Or, an athlete who strains her knee may feel the emotional anguish of having let her teammates down when she is unable to compete with them. Inevitably, when one part of us is injured, it has a domino effect on the other essential parts of ourselves. This is why I believe, from years of working with thousands of clients, that when we experience pain it not only exists on all levels but must be treated on all levels.
Physical pain is the easiest type of pain to identify—and to heal, especially when it involves a superficial wound, one that can be seen by the naked eye. Physical pain, because of its obviousness, is also the type of pain we are less inclined to judge. It is a different story when it comes to emotional or spiritual pain.
Emotional pain is an affective response to a life event. We all understand the pain of grieving, especially when someone loved dies too soon or leaves this planet suddenly. Emotional pain, unlike physical pain, triggers a process that usually needs more time and attention. How many of us have experienced the pain of stubbing a toe as being “no big deal” when compared to the pain we feel when we have been dumped by someone we thought was “the one”? Though no flesh has been torn or blood shed, our hearts are wounded in ways that will inhibit our ability to lead full and fulfilling lives if we do not adequately process that pain.
The same is true of pain that hits us hard on the spiritual level, and this type of pain is, I believe, the most difficult to identify and heal (at least, when using traditional Western methodologies, such as counseling).
In La Cultura: Conceptual Strategies to Understand Identity, Diversity, Otherness and the Difference, Patricio Guerrero Arias refers to spiritual pain as the “disruption in the principle which pervades a person’s entire being and which integrates and transcends one’s biological and psychosocial nature.” Christian hospice chaplain Tom Allain’s years of experience led him to define spiritual pain as occurring when “there is an event that violates the core values, beliefs, or needs of the person.” NANDA International describes spiritual pain as “a state of disorder in a person’s inner core. It might be a chronic or an acute heartache, an existential dissonance that expresses itself in behavioral incongruities. An important characteristic is that it is a pain appropriate medication does not relieve.” They list the experiential features of spiritual pain as follows:
• Disconnection from others; unwillingness to engage
• Preoccupation with self
• Feeling outcast and alone
• Expressing a loss of future
• Feeling abandoned
• Distress, despair, withdrawal
• No joy in anything
• Pain is fixed
• Feeling trapped
• Anger, shame, guilt
Addressing emotional or spiritual pain is where modern medicine, too, fails us. For example, a young man suffering from sexual dysfunction (physical pain) often has a deep fear of intimacy (emotional pain) and his heart (spiritual pain) feels alone and unloved in the world. A new mother may be hurting from a lack of support from her husband (emotional pain) and as a result be unable to relax and breast-feed her child (physical pain), which may lead her into a deep, postpartum depression (spiritual pain).
In the end, it does not matter where our pain originates. What matters is how we honor our experience of pain and how we listen to what it is trying to teach us. I know this because I let my own pain, a pain that was initially physical but became spiritual and emotional, hold me hostage for most of my life. Until I freed myself with Convergence Healing.
THE NIGHT I DIED
I gaze down at my lifeless body. I am dead. No pulse, no heartbeat, no breath. I am simply dead. I never see this coming. Everything happens so fast.
Tops, I’m traveling twenty miles per hour. I’m riding along a twisty suburban road on my little yellow Motobecane, under the light of a full moon. I am too busy being angry and put out to appreciate the beautiful nighttime scene I am a part of. Lost in my thoughts, I am having a heated, internal argument with my parents. I’m only seventeen years old, but I resent my parents for not trusting me more. I want to go to a cast party, but my parents told me I could not go, so instead I am being the good son and going home.
As I am riding along, fuming, a big car roars up behind me. I lean into a curve in the road ahead as the car’s white headlights flash brightly in my side-view mirrors. The light is blinding.
Up ahead, I see too late that a parked semitruck is entirely blocking my way. I am driving near the curb and only a few feet from the rear of the truck when my scooter is bumped from behind. Time strangely slows down as I jump out of my body just before impact and watch the accident unfold in front of me. My body is slammed into the steel tailgate of the semitruck. I float above the side of the road and watch in slow motion as my body smashes into the truck. I watch myself bounce off the rear of the semi and into the middle of the road. There is a strange silence and a profound peace. I notice that my body is not moving.
My scooter, my prized possession, is a mangled yellow metal mess. Blood oozes from my scraped-up face and my knee is bent at a grotesque angle. A budding dancer with my heart set on a Broadway career, I remember thinking, “This cannot be good,” though with every second that passes I am more and more detached from any sensation of pain or even an opinion about what is happening in front of me. In fact, I watch these things, feeling a strange deepening sense of peace and calm. I am detached. I am aware that there is pain, but I do not feel any of it.
No one else is on the road. I feel utterly alone yet utterly at peace. I find myself drifting upward and hovering high over the accident. The car that hit me drives off as the stillness of the night returns.
Then I depart.
One second I am calmly awaiting the moment a car runs over and crushes my dead body, the next I am rushing, floating fast along a white otherworldly tunnel. Being drawn down this spinning tunnel of white clouds is absolute bliss. The tunnel corkscrew spins and I am shooting like a comet through it, experiencing love and joy like I have never known. As I ascend through this tunnel of light, I become less and less interested in what I am leaving behind. I am not just at peace. I am peace.
I arrive. I am here . . . wherever “here” is. Heaven, or whatever this place is, looks exactly how other people generally describe it. There are no billowy clouds, just massive whiteness. It is soft, brilliantly white, yet diffused. I sense that there is a floor, and that I am standing on it, but I cannot see it. Ceilings and walls do not exist here; there is only brilliance, an inherent living light. I even feel like I am in a defined space . . . if you can somehow define a room made up of infinity. With each passing second my heart beats with more expansive joy.
I begin to explore this place of vast nothingness. I am so curious. My curiosity is overwhelming. . . . It is even fun and it feels like play to explore and try to understand this place. It feels like a lot of time goes by. I feel as though I have been floating in this place of stillness for quite a while.
I start to ask myself where everyone is (I was expecting to see some dead relatives or at least my departed dog), and at that very moment in which I wonder if anyone knows I am here, I see an old man with a long, stringy white beard. He seems to be waiting for me to notice him.
I sense an unfamiliar familiarity about him. I feel as though I know this stranger. No, I do not just know him, I love him. I love him so much, I feel as if my heart is erupting from my chest. This love goes beyond any love I have ever experienced before. It is painful and joyous at the same time. It is felt in every cell of my being.
In this moment I am swept up in the enormity of this love, and it is as if I am meeting God . . . but I know this old man is not God. He is of God. He is there to speak with me, but he is not God. He wears a brown tweed suit that is cut like the fashion just before the turn of the nineteenth century. The name Hong Kong pops into my mind. When I am older I come to think of him as Lao-tzu, a dear friend and a wise old man. In this moment he is like an angel, but he is not that either. I understand now that he is a “guide” or even a “guardian.” I feel like he is my version of a fairy godmother.
“I know you, right?” I think I am speaking out loud. Or at least it seems like I am—I am not sure. He is translucent, like the holograph of Obi-Wan Kenobi in Star Wars, and he has shape and form but he is pure light. Like Princess Leia, I sense this man is “my only hope.”
Although I feel deeply connected to this man, I desperately want to see some of my loved ones. I find myself thinking about my great-grandmother who died a month before I was born. Is she here? But I see no one but Lao-tzu in this place of exquisite nothingness.
I know that the fuzzy man with the stringy beard loves me. I feel love in his eyes as he calmly speaks to me. “You have to go back. You are not supposed to be here.” For a second, I am confused. Then I am furious. The overwhelming love I have been feeling is replaced in seconds by a deep churning anger.
Back on earth, I do not fit in at church. I do not fit in at home. I definitely do not fit in at school. The only place I have been free to be myself is onstage. And here. And now I am being told I have to leave?
“Fuck you,” I say to the bearded man. And then I am gone.
It took decades for me to recognize that the man I had encountered at the end of the white tunnel did not have an agenda; he was simply a messenger. He was not rejecting me because I did not belong. He was letting me know that it just was not my time. Still, I was ready to depart this earth then and I am today. Although I engage in this life as fully as possible, if God, or Lao-tzu, tapped me on the shoulder tomorrow and nodded, saying, “It is time, buddy,” I would ask to say a few quick good-byes and then be on my way.
I would love to tell you that my life after my death experience became easier, but in fact the opposite happened. For too many years after I totaled my scooter and nearly died for good, my life mirrored the story of Sisyphus, who cheated the gods and was condemned to roll a boulder uphill every day only to find it at the bottom of the hill the following morning. Ever since I had the experience in the white tunnel, I have also had an ache to get back there, to go back “home.” Because of this longing, I wrongly punished myself for everything, including being alive.
I awoke in my body and told the paramedic who was leaning over me, his ear close to my chest, that there was an insurance card in my back pocket and to take me to the hospital. He jumped and let out a yelp when I opened my eyes. I must have scared the crap out of him because he looked panicked, like his eyes were about to pop out of his head.
And then I am gone again, floating above and watching the paramedics load my broken-up body into the ambulance. I watch them close the doors and drive off. With every fiber of my being, I do not want to go with them.
With no intention of following the ambulance to the hospital, I remain hovering over the street, thinking to myself, “I do not want to go back!” I am practically screaming it at the top of my lungs, but there is no one around to hear me. I stay as long as I can.
The next thing I knew, I opened my eyes and found myself staring up at a cheap white dropped ceiling. Mom and Dad were there. We were in a hospital, and I was terrified and ashamed because I felt like I should have been able to do something to avoid all this. I was not good enough, and my accident must have been punishment for something I did wrong. I felt scared and ashamed because I did not want to live. . . .
As I lay in that dreary hospital room racked with terrible physical pain, the doctors informed me that I had shattered a knee and split my wrist. It was not until my knee was healed enough for me to begin the painful physical therapy I needed to learn to walk again that they discovered I had also fractured five vertebrae in my spine.
The initial surgery I had to have on my knee was delayed a week because all the torn and dead skin around it had to heal up before a surgeon could cut through it again (at least, that is what the doctors told me). The hospital used my surgery as a teaching session, and surgeons from across the country flew in to witness my knee being pieced back together like a jigsaw puzzle.
I found that I was crying myself to sleep every night that week and many nights thereafter. I began living and breathing fear. I never let on how miserable I was, because if I did, what was I going to do? Apparently, dying was not an option anymore, especially now that doctors surrounded me. I was terrified of ending up in a wheelchair and never being able to dance again. A full year after the accident, I was still angry at and arguing with God. Not really arguing . . . more like screaming at God. I was, quite simply, in an awful place.
In my mind, I would return to that infinite white space and rage at the bearded man who had turned me away. I had pleaded with my angels about how I did not want to be on this plane anymore. I felt rejected—rejected by love and the greatest sense of peace I had ever experienced—and tossed back into a body full of pain. This was not my idea of a blessed life. All I had now was a broken body, bitterness, and dashed dreams. I had so much anger, and I did not know what to do with it. Over the ensuing years, I would shove down that anger over and over again only to have it come out sideways as more sickness and pain.
Instead of getting “better,” my suffering intensified. Hiding in pain, I cut myself off from any real solutions for healing. Actually, it was not that I cut myself off from the right solutions; I simply did not know what they were. All that was offered to me were drugs and surgery. I saw that pain medications were only a temporary fix and that masking the pain only made what really ailed me worse, so I simply did not take any. I just learned to live with the pain. Even after my knee had healed, I felt so bad for so long. My list of sufferings included chronic allergies, arthritis, asthma, chronic pain, depression, anxiety, sciatica, fibromyalgia, a hernia, brain damage, as well as several other life-threatening experiences in which I came close to dying once again.
I had grown up in a working-class household where aspirin and prescription medications were turned to whenever any kind of pain was present. My father, a mailman, had such terrible chronic back pain that Mom always made sure the large-size bottles of pain relievers were in the house. After all, purchasing large quantities is almost always the most economical route to go. Where emotional pain was concerned, my family followed the Catholic tradition of denying pain—of becoming a martyr to pain—rather than turning to face and embrace it. This made growing up as a gay son in a semiconservative religious household very challenging. And very lonely. I always felt like an outsider, like I never fit in or belonged. That is, until I found dance, my calling. I was on my way home from my first professional performance when my leg was shattered.
The best my conscious mind could do with all this information, especially when it was coupled with the fact that I had been kicked out of “heaven” by the bearded messenger, was to decide that I was, somehow, born “wrong.” This belief became my greatest source of pain, my internal prison. It would take me years and years before I would be led to the holistic and cutting-edge Western healing modalities that would actually help cure me.
Until that time, I stayed huddled up in a dark, unenlightened space. I clung hard to negative opinions, assumptions, and judgments about others and myself in a futile attempt to guard myself from pain. Essentially, I de-evolved and became a child again, stuck in a frozen and surreal state of survival mode. I punished myself with shame, embarrassment, and the overwhelmingly painful belief that I was not good enough.
Years later, once I finally began to understand that true healing is something that we all must take ownership of for ourselves, I trusted myself enough to ignore the advice of the doctors who were too quick to take out the prescription pad and too eager to schedule the next surgery to “clean up” my arthritic, inflamed knee. Instead, I finally turned within and decided to trust that voice inside me that said “There is a better way,” even though I had no firm grasp on what that way would be.
No matter where I turned, I bumped into pain. Finally, I hit such a severe low point that I understood I had become a complete victim to pain. I knew that I had no choice but to discover a better way of living.
Now I can see that pain was calling me to heal and love myself. The pain was trying to get my attention, enlighten me, and teach me a deep lesson. Perhaps even my life lesson. My pain actually wanted to set me free. Only I could unlatch the gate to my inner prison, a prison I had unwittingly built myself.
I took a leap of faith that miserable day. In my mind, someday I would find whatever it was that I specifically needed to feel better. Not heal one hundred percent, just feel a bit better for a little while. Gradually, the stronger I got and the better I felt, I understood that I was meant to embrace every part of my being with full, radical acceptance. That it was my job to integrate the lonely, isolated, and wounded parts of myself and make them whole. Only then would the pain that had had me so pinned down dissolve and leave.
Now I refuse to settle. If ever I feel sick, I do not settle for anything less than total wellness. It may take time to restore that sense of wholesome wellness, but because I am so committed to living in the present, I realize I have all the time in the world. It is a new and wonderfully strange experience to live in the moment and feel truly at peace with how things are while still holding a vision of what it will one day feel like to be completely restored, happy, healthy, and free.
Once I made the commitment to take control of my thinking, I was able to see that not only was I living with pain but I was also living in the fear of being in pain for the rest of my life. What a self-defeating load of crap. Somehow, I had become completely maladjusted, a true victim’s victim, and I finally saw how suffocating and toxic my belief systems had become.
In the infancy of my rising awareness, whenever negative thoughts presented themselves and threatened to overpower my thinking/behavior/day, I reminded myself to let go of the fear. “Faith, not fear” became my mantra. It sure as hell was better than whatever I had used as a mantra before. I started to believe that my life could be restored and that I could and would find love. Maybe not the love I had experienced when I died, but a love that is alive deep inside of me. Now I wake up every day and strive to experience that love. I find it in the deepest parts of me and usually most passionately when I decide to embrace the most flawed and ugly parts of who I am.
As I began to take charge and turn my health around, I experienced a lot of unexpected guilt. Choosing my own path felt like turning my back on the entrenched doctrines I had been raised with. Was I betraying my parents somehow? Did the doctors really know better than I did? In spite of all this, I resolved to remain true to my new belief that there had to be more I could do to help myself heal.
What I finally came to understand is that pain is not just a fact of life; it is a gateway to life. We need to approach our own pain with loving curiosity and clear-sightedness. Pain is neither good nor bad—it just is. It is a messenger, from the core of our being, telling us that something needs to be healed. It’s calling us to take action.
I do not know why, but the human mind does everything possible to avoid pain. The nervous system and even the subconscious mind get involved in hiding our pain from us, and so we get hijacked into looking into the wrong remedies for our pain (or, in fact, we may treat something utterly unrelated—the symptom—to our deepest pain). Finally, though, researchers, doctors, and therapists are finding more and more that physical pain, even what is called “bony” pain, can and often does originate in a place that has seemingly nothing to do with the area that is feeling the pain.
Noted Washington State back surgeon Dr. David S. Hanscom is canceling or postponing surgeries and asking his clients to try healing themselves with his “Prehab” system, which focuses on sleep, stress management, and cognitive behavioral therapy work.
The famous Dr. Wayne Dyer commonly recommended diet and exercise before turning to prescription drugs.
Buddhist teacher Pema Chödrön encourages us to “lean into our pain.” She says: “Feelings like disappointment, embarrassment, irritation, resentment, anger, jealousy, and fear, instead of being bad news, are actually very clear moments that teach us where it is that we’re holding back. They teach us to perk up and lean in when we feel we would rather collapse and back away. Painful feelings are like messengers that show us, with terrifying clarity, exactly where we are stuck. This very moment is the perfect teacher, and lucky for us, it is with us wherever we are.”
As you move deeper and deeper into Convergence Healing with me, you will be asked to step outside whatever makes up your comfort zone. You will be asked to take an honest inventory of how you think and how you feel and, most important, to identify what is truly causing your pain.
If this sounds daunting, all you have to do is ask yourself the questions I was ultimately forced to ask myself: Do I honestly want to feel better? Do I want to stop being in so much pain? For me, the answer was a plain and truthful yes. It was like a roar permeated my being.
Healing takes work. It requires determination and dedication and the belief that you can do it. Healing is a process, a process of bringing the wounded and hidden parts of yourself out into the light so that they can be freed from shame, guilt, blame, and so many other negative emotions we entrap them in.
Pain will visit you, time and time again, during this precious lifetime. That is what great messengers do. When you understand this, your convergence, your integration, and your healing will begin. It is time.
Sometimes life piles up on you. My client Jackie was experiencing a major pileup. In her late fifties, she found herself lost and miserable. All the things that she used to do in order to avoid pain just did not work anymore.
In her twenties, Jackie had used sex, drugs, and partying to avoid having to face what ailed her. As the years went by, she turned to food, pharmaceutical drugs, and even becoming a workaholic. These tactics all lasted for periods of time but never for long. It was becoming harder and harder to avoid the heavy pain that Jackie was carrying around.
Jackie had been avoiding pain for so long that she was not even sure what she was hiding from anymore. Her life seemed like a blur of shockingly painful events, all stacked up one on top of the other. Her father was distant and unloving. Her mother was an abusive alcoholic. Her brother teased her relentlessly. Her bosses sexually harassed her. Her friends died one after the other in the 1980s due to the AIDS epidemic. Her surviving friends betrayed her trust. The universe seemed to be beating Jackie up . . . or was it?
Jackie absorbed each of these experiences, one after the other. She even held on to them, as each trauma felt like a way to be connected to those she had lost. She felt so numb inside that at least the pain reminded her that she was alive.
Yet, at the same time, she would run away from all of these stuffed emotions, too afraid that they would overwhelm her. The thought was that if she gave in and felt the pain, it would become never ending and unbearable. She was in a conundrum; she needed the pain in order to feel at least something and not completely shut down, yet she remained afraid that if she let in any more of the pain, then it would overtake her.
When I asked Jackie how this pain was helping her, she looked at me like I was crazy. From Jackie’s perspective, her pain was destroying her life; she couldn’t see what I saw, which was that she had become addicted to her pain.
When I met Jackie, she was living with a cancerous tumor. She had been at stage IV for some time and was resigned to living in this “worst-case” state and managing the physical pain she was in.
Even in treating her tumor, Jackie was looking for outside sources to heal her. She started with Western medical doctors (chemo, radiation, surgery) and moved on to psychics and energy healers. When she came to see me, she was deeply involved in a Buddhist prayer group. She had a degree of success with each of these modalities, but, like most everything else in her life, they only went so far. None of them were able to cure Jackie and none of them were able to give her the peace that she claimed to so desire.
When I asked Jackie to look at the pain, her tumor, from a different perspective, she was highly skeptical. How could this thing that was killing her be of benefit and, furthermore, how could she be expected to accept this as a part of her to be loved and respected? After some coaxing, she became willing to try to change her perspective. This is when things really started to happen.
When Jackie approached her pain with respect and curiosity instead of rejection and fear, all kinds of important information began budding toward the surface. As we went through all the injustices and abuse that Jackie had endured in her life, a common thread began to emerge. Beneath all the pain was a simple request from the universe: Jackie needed to love herself unconditionally.
Her pain was no longer something to avoid but actually something to be nurtured. It was a cosmic messenger asking Jackie to heal her wounded heart. Jackie had spent so much time running away from her pain that she never realized it might want to help her resolve some of the issues that had kept her from finding peace in her life.
From this place of new understanding, we began to develop a game plan for how Jackie could acknowledge that she had received and fully comprehended this message. But Jackie had no idea how to be loved. She truly had no idea what love felt like. No wonder she was so comfortable living in that numbed-out space between slouching through life and staving off death.
Our focus quickly shifted from Jackie’s cancer to learning what in life gave her the experience of feeling loved. Her pain, brought on by the tumor that was perceived to be killing her, was actually calling out for Jackie to not only survive but also to really live! The tumor gave Jackie the gift of learning to be kind and loving to herself and to spread this sense of happiness instead of lapsing into pity and self-reproach.
Jackie had always wanted to dance, and knowing that at stage IV she might not have much time, her pain prompted her to get on her feet and take those tap dance classes. She’d always wanted to have a dog, but her family frowned upon dogs. The tumor cleared away all the “should nots,” and Jackie got a dog.
The more she turned toward her pain with the intention of understanding and honoring it, the more Jackie discovered what it was like to really be alive. Her pain taught her to live in the moment, to appreciate what she had, and to forgive her parents and her brother for not being more loving with her, for not helping her to learn the skill of loving herself. The gift of the tumor and the pain it caused forced Jackie to listen, turn within, and find the healing that she so desperately needed.
Jackie took the work that we had done to heart. The more she incorporated into her life the things that made her happy, the happier she became. She went through an emotional renaissance of sorts in her later years. I am not sure what happened to Jackie, as we have been out of touch for several years. The last I heard, she was considered a “wild woman” by her neighbors because she was following her dreams and living life according to Jackie. A sharp contrast to the quiet lady who no one used to talk to.