This post is about pain. But, not severe pain. More like, everyday, mild, “I feel like I want to complain” kind of pain.
This weekend I had my first all-day outdoor activity day of the year. I took a sailing class and we had the benefit of sailing two-person dinghies for nearly 5 hours straight.
I decided to ride my bike because it was sunny and Spring and it’s actually faster (compared to the bus). This was another first of the year for me. Of course my tires were pretty much flat and pedalling uphill to the gas station to get air felt like the hardest thing I’d ever done. I began huffing and puffing and ending up walking it most of the way. Eventually I got the air in my tires and with a nice downhill slope got some air in my lungs, as well. In my mind, I’m thinking “damn, this is hard, I don’t know if this was such a good idea.”. Then I came upon a marathon in progress. At the place I passed them I saw a sign that said, “24 km”. I don’t know if that’s what they ran already or what they had left, but, suddenly rolling down the street on my two wheels felt really easy.
So, before I turn this into a long drawn-out sad story and I end up missing the whole point of this post, let me get right to it. The day was amazing, but the sailing was very physically hard. We were capsizing and righting our boats multiple times and it was very difficult. It requires a lot of upper body strength and over the winter (and over the years) I’ve lost plenty of that. I did the best I could. I hurled my body onto the boat, the daggerboard, the hull, over the sides, under the sides, you name it. And I had a great time. After all was said and done it was time to bike home. I was exhausted. I knew I was going to be feeling it in my muscles the next day. And I slowly headed home.
Which brings me to my point. For the last couple of days I have been feeling really uncomfortable - in pain – good pain: sore muscles kind of pain. Besides that I developed some pretty nasty bruises all over my arms and legs. I bruise fairly easily so they look horrible and feel tender. We all experience this uncomfortable feeling in our bodies, some more than others. I’m fortunate to be a generally healthy person and usually quite free of pain so I’m doing my best to take a lesson from this now. Because it will pass before I know it.
The thing that always happens when pain comes up is my mind focuses on it. I hear my thoughts telling me, “this hurts, that looks horrible, it’s swollen, etc”. Dr. Hawkins says that we actually only ever experience (feel) that which we resist. And boy, am I resisting, and hurting.
So, I am trying to cut off the resistance at the pass. I simply surrender my constant evaluations regarding how it looks, how it feels, when it might get better or how it might affect the day. I let it all go. I decide to let my body be in pain and sit with that reality without any judgment or labelling or evaluating.
Instantly I felt better, euphoric almost. Not all the time, mind you. The feeling of being uncomfortable inevitably returns just as strong as ever. But, once again I surrender and I feel fine again. I’m not sure if I’m expressing this experience in a way that makes sense to others, but, every time I successfully surrender the pain I felt a gain in confidence that I can do it again. And not only do it for muscle pain and tender tissue, but tiredness, lethargy, or apathy of work and tasks that need to be done. Even writing this post has its own level of discomfort. My mind wants to complain, quit, take a nap, watch TV, do something else, anything else. However, the exact same process of surrender that I achieve for my pain I can also achieve with writing. Anything, really: negative thinking, judgment, anger, sadness, things like that. Like the pain, it feels uncomfortable. And the relief is amazing. Sometimes it facilitates a joyous feeling and other times it simply takes me to a place of neutrality. Which frankly, feels amazing relative to the pain.
A really important part of my path right now is to pay attention to what my mind is doing. And what I’ve noticed is when I’m feeling uncomfortable, in my head I’m telling a story to someone about how bad I feel – complaining, basically. Even though I might never tell people or maybe just one person who’s close to me, my mind is constantly having this conversation with various people. So I assigned a short-hand for that one, too.
That’s it. That’s all it takes. I see it for what it is: just a thought about how badly I’m feeling in the form of a story I’m sharing with someone I know, which amplifies my feelings and gives a certain reality to my pain (even though the story is all still in my head). Luckily for us we get plenty of opportunities to feel physical pain. Use those times to see what your mind does. Who are you talking to in your mind? What are you saying? Are you amplifying the pain with your thoughts? Try telling a different story or better yet, no story at all. Objectively, your body is free to be broken and in pain and experiencing whatever is going on with it. But, your mind can say otherwise. Pay attention. Surrender.