Our bodies are amazing. When every part functions well, it’s easy to take them for granted. And perhaps not to take as good care of them as they deserve.
It’s when something goes wrong, when I feel pain or get ill, that I am called to look at how I could do better to sustain this thing we call the temple of our soul.
What happened to me last week is my upper back—somewhere in the right middle trapezius—suddenly became highly inflamed with attendant acute pain I’d rank 7 out of 10. It literally sprang forth overnight.
The first day I woke up with pangs of excruciating pain whenever I moved the wrong way. I had trouble getting out of bed without wincing. Throughout the day, a piercing pang could be caused by bending down to pick a pan out of the cupboard, or, heaven forbid, sneezing or laughing!
Later in the day, the soreness moved up towards the top of my shoulder (my levator scapulae), with pains occasionally shooting up my neck and down my arms.
I can’t say definitively what made my back unhappy. Maybe I slept on it wrong, as one friend suggested. Maybe I put myself out of alignment from spending too many hours sitting in front of my screen, moving only mouse and fingers on the keyboard. Maybe the primary cause doesn’t always matter so much.
When you change the way you look at things, the things you look at change.Max Planc
My friend Alison in the UK, physiotherapist, Munay Ki practitioner, and author of Daring to Feel: Awaken the Healer Within got on zoom with me and invited me to sit with my body feelings, to breathe, observe, be curious, and to dialog with the pain to see what it was telling me. By doing this, along with some gentle self-massage exercises, I could relax my shoulders enough to feel that I wasn’t fighting the pain, just letting it be. That at least changed the energy around the ache, even if I failed to find any surprising insights.
Like most people, I’d guess, I’ve had my share of pains over the years. Toothaches, backaches, muscle aches, gallbladder attacks. I remember in the mid-80s I was in a fancy Italian restaurant when my lower back acted up and I lay flat down on the floor for some minutes to give it relief!
Yet nothing throughout my anti-cancer treatments ever caused me intolerable pain; not needles, not surgeries, not medication, not radiation, nothing. And you can bet your boots I’ve been mighty grateful for that!
For sure each of us experiences pain differently. I’ve alluded to how some people might be prone to prompts to feel pain. And that points to a mental or emotional element in pain.
Pain is a complex subject. I was once told by a dentist I had a low pain threshold as I kicked when she drilled my teeth without anesthesia and hit nerves. Others have observed I have a high threshold. I always wondered how they assessed that.
In Alison’s book on self-healing, chapter 2 is about pain, and her first paragraph is revealing:
Pain is an elusive sensation that no one has been able to see, measure, or capture on camera or with any instrument, despite decades of research. It comes in many forms and is sometimes difficult even to identify. It’s not composed of solid matter—no atoms or electrons—or anything that can be quantified scientifically. We can measure the effects of pain by how it impinges upon our ability to live our lives and carry out physical activities, but as yet we are no closer to finding the essence of pain. It changes form, quantity, and quality. It comes and goes as if by magic: a trickster, or master magician.Alison Lingwood
On the second day, just a few days ago, when the pain reached an almost unbearable level, I was momentarily of a mind to call off the pot luck dinner I wanted to host in our home. I had invited my Friday Sundowner friends over and I knew I’d be in awful shape to be a useful host. I resisted that temptation to cancel, and I’m ever so glad I did. Our evening was lovely despite my pain, and my honey and friends merrily stepped in to do what needed to be done and more.
After they left, I took two ibuprofen anti-inflammatory pills and crashed in bed. The relentless pain had exhausted me. I slept 16 hours.
And when I awakened, as if by magic, yes! the acute pain was gone. Crazy. I only still feel some minor tenderness in the back area.
A good laugh and a long sleep are the best cures in the doctor’s book.Irish proverb
Did I learn anything from this two-day pain experience? Maybe not new, but gentle reminders:
- I can lean into pain and let it take its course, without serious medical intervention
- Sleep and gentle massage nurture and heal the body and more
- I can allow myself to feel helpless, at least temporarily, to know I can’t always (if ever) be in control, while letting my body do its own healing
- Friends are glad to help when asked, and there’s no indignity in asking
- It serves me better to be less in my head, and give my body more of a voice and more attention
- As it’s so often said these days, sitting is the new smoking… and I need to move more, to stretch more
Our bodies are amazing indeed. And they need to be heeded and honored.
This upper back pain was an intense distraction from my eye. There’s been no change on that front; my blurry world lingers. I continue to resist next steps, meaning more tests. I’ll surely do them eventually, but I must get beyond feeling test-weary. In the meantime, I’m talking to the raised retina in my eye and asking it to shrink away, magically, just as the acute pain in my back faded away.
What is your relationship with your body? With pain? Do you tend to seek an immediate medical or drug solution? Or do you listen and dialog with your pain and ask it what it wants to tell you?
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