Pain management: Listening to the body

ImageMonths ago, as I started a new radio show and we were pre-recording two back-to-back programs, my focus was totally on my back pain! 

Since the producer was leaving for vacation, I didn’t dare cancel our appointment, even though I had strained my back at the beginning of the weekend and had spent three days biting bullets at home.  Interestingly, that day’s topic was precisely about pain and its management.

I don’t take analgesics (painkillers) and always advocate for natural health approaches, while listening to the body’s inner wisdom.

The morning had started very promising for me, with a little stiffness but no limiting pain. I drove the 20 minutes on the interstate and then carried my computer to the second floor. Mistake. I wasn’t paying attention and didn’t listen to my back alerting me not to carry weights. Soon my back started to resent those few pounds I lifted.

When I started to talk into the microphone, I realized that even without any medication circulating through my blood, I was feeling quite groggy. I knew my whole body was invested in repairing the damaged tissue, and not enough energy was left to brighten up my mind so that I could focus on producing a quality program.

What an incredible paradox. The program was precisely about pain and I couldn’t step out of script to describe to the listeners how I was feeling. I was afraid of sounding inconsistent or of lessening the strength of the message I wanted to convey. But now I think it would have made it livelier. People out there suffering from pain could have related to my state of mind.

Somatic pain is not just a somatic experience, I felt vulnerable, tired and distracted. I felt kind of incomplete, split into pieces, and susceptible. Like if my angels had flown away. Like if my Hun (Chinese term for Heavenly spirits) had deserted me and was now traveling to more pleasant places.

I was left feeling lonely in my flesh and I felt the pulse of this pain with such intensity that the walls of the recording room seemed to contract and expand with the throbbing.

This was not the first time I’d hurt my back, I knew the pain would go away. I knew that Reiki, insights, anti-inflammatory foods, Complex B supplements, Vitamin C, and QiGong exercises would, in just a few days, bring me back to normal, optimal function. This hope and certainty calmed me down, helping me withstand the pain, understanding it was an alarm, a signal, a call from my body asking me to accept that I need rest. I opted to listen, slow down, rest, and eat healthy.

This experience made me feel very compassionate towards all those who suffer chronic pain. I think I understand why when you suffer any kind of chronic pain the hope for relief may have left leaving in place a kind of desperate resignation where the days are counted slowly, one-by-one.

Still, I believe that pain brings us an opportunity to look into things from a different perspective. We need to take the pain to another dimension and examine it under a spiritual kind of microscope. It might give us the opportunity to face dormant emotional pains that are still unresolved. It might give us the opportunity to look at our lifestyle and ponder if some changes in how we eat, the way we move, relate or balance activity/rest need change.

As a mental health counselor, I have found that many people in chronic pain receive support and friendship only when their lives are miserable. Pain can in this way play a trick on us and subconscious needs for care and love may invite pain to stay in the body.

But pain might also give us the opportunity to reach out, openly express our needs, let others know that yes, we’re also vulnerable and would like support once in a while.

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Just for today I do not worry

It’s a never-ending habit. Starts in the morning and ends before you go to bed. Drives your mood, your relationships, your decisions. I’Imagem talking about the habit to worry. You might already have read “Just for today I do not anger,” referring to the five principles taught by Reiki founder Mikao Usui. “Just for today I do not worry” is one of the five.

But how to stop worrying?

It goes on and on and invades our mind: Will you earn enough to pay for your health care needs when you get old? Will you perform as expected in the new job?
Does he love you as much as you love him?

The list is long and you keep worrying… from being late for an appointment to major decisions in life.

According to the five-element theory of Traditional Chinese Medicine, we are all born with wisdom (and the wisdom resides in our “kidneys”). This wisdom refers not only to the inner capacity of the body to self regulate, repair, regenerate and heal. It also refers to instinct, reflexes and intuition.

The baby knows the caregiver will tend for his/her needs and trusts the world. It’s driven by something that we don’t yet fully understand, to the breast, to suck its nourishment (it’s not just a reflex). The baby cries to signal a need; it cuddles because he or she knows love; it smiles because he or she responds with kindness to our care.

The newborn comes to this world equipped with wisdom, trust, faith, confidence, joy, a sense of integrity and of connection with mom. But as the baby grows up, these feelings and emotions suffer. Life is painful, frustrating… you don’t necessarily get what you ask for. As we experience the world, it is inevitable to experience – to some extent –  betrayal, abandonment and/or rejection. Mild as an experience could in many cases be, it would shape our feelings. We learn anger, resentment, grief, mistrust and fear as the result of hurt and frustration. We may even lose faith in our capacity to master the world and create our own reality.

As fear sets in, wisdom is overshadowed by it and the result is worry. We stop trusting. We no longer experience faith in our connection with the whole.

Fear becomes the enemy. It stops us from loving fully, from enjoying life, from trusting others. Worry is often the sheer expression of our fear.

Faith in the universe, faith in our capacity to create our reality, will lead us to stop worrying. It might sound cliché, but we need to really believe that “everything is going to be alright.” Not necessarily because we will always get the results we want in any given situation but because we will have the necessary wisdom to make the most of it and because, even when we can’t understand it, the results are related to something deeper: our soul purpose.

How can we help our children keep the wisdom intact and avoid the fear?

Just for today, I do not anger

ImageWhen I took the Reiki Master level class in 1999, my master told us that the mastery path consisted on achieving success in two “tasks:” One, aligning our will with the universe’s will and two, mastering the five Reiki principles:

  1. Just for today, I do not anger

  2. Just for today, I do not worry

  3. I give thanks for all of my blessings

  4. I honor my parents, elders and masters, and

  5. I work honestly (on myself)

Reiki founder Mikao Usui had developed these principles to help practitioners and students on their spiritual path.

I started to look at the principles and to find ways to apply them. Years before I took that Reiki class, I had read Richard Bach’ explanation of why we get angry. It hit a chord with me. Could it be? Is there always, as he said, a power issue behind our anger?

Throughout the years, I tested Bach’s hypothesis and it seemed to work for me; so, I shared it with others. It seemed clear that when I got angry at the guy that didn’t provide me with, for example, good customer service over the phone, my anger responded to a feeling of  something that sounded like, “who does he think I am? Doesn’t he recognize that I am not a dummy? Why does he talk to me as if I know nothing of the issue I’m calling about?” It felt that I was right in demanding more from customer service.

But what about when my anger was related to family matters? Why do we get upset with people we love? Are we really into power struggles with them? At times, the answer was a resounding yes! And so, I left Bach’s hypothesis unchallenged for the time being.

Later on, Don Miguel Ruiz’s writings offered me another pearl of wisdom. We get angry because we take it personal, he thinks. Do we? Maybe!

And there I went on testing the new hypothesis, combining it with the former one, eagerly trying to know the truth.

However, only recently it has dawned on me that anger is most likely related to love or the lack of it.

In Traditional Chinese Medicine’s five element theory, we’re born with love, compassion and kindness and life experience makes us acquire opposite emotions: hate, anger, resentment.

At first, I started to notice that, indeed, when I got upset, I could be just reacting to unkindness, which felt… fair? I mean, there is indignation and there is anger, right? Indignation is when we justly get annoyed because of something ugly, unfair, unjust or disgusting.

But there was something else. Unkindness just alerted me of the fact that I had a need to feel loved and liked. When somebody is unkind to me, I deducted, then I feel I am not loved. And this could explain the temporary falling out of balance.

Next question I asked myself was if I assumed that I shall be loved? And then, was my feeling rooted on unresolved issues from my past? But, I didn’t think so.

There is this part of me that knows only love, that resonates with love. Unkindness feels as a discordant note. And this was also part of the answer. However, I kept digging.

There was something else, I found, and the insight came out with tears. Unkindness by others also alerted me of my incapacity to love unconditionally and to totally accept others as they are.

I am love and love is what I came to experience! Since love is my north, becoming aware of how far I still am from achieving my destination obviously saddened me deeply.

I shall continue to work on the principles… I shall keep on working honestly on myself!

Why I talk in first person

On the right… a list of posts. Click on the one you want to read.

I want to issue a warning.

I talk in first person. I believe that we’re all unique and that my experiences and conclusions might not apply to every other person.

I am not shy in disclosing my shadow. Most people hide it. Unfortunately, this will invite others – sometimes – to judge me and the judgement will be based in the fact that I am a Reiki Master and have been in a spiritual path for a very long time. So, some people wonder, how come I haven’t get rid of the ugly side?

I am very careful to prevent possible judgment from expressing my wholeness. It is important to me to be authentic. I don’t want to go into denial. Only when my shadow is visible to others, they can become my mirrors and it’s through my image reflected on them that I can become aware of my own dark side.

I don’t think that being human we could really abstract ourselves from society or kill the ego. I don’t even think we should kill the ego. The ego is the regulator of our physical aspect. The ego doesn’t give us much trouble unless it’s disconnected from the soul, the soul being the light, the part of us that connect us with everything that exists.

I am not sure that we can say that we are spiritual beings living a human experience either. This for me would be a linear statement. It implies separation between physical and spiritual aspects of our being. I see these aspects as part of a whole.

Separation and fragmentation is the problem that we are facing in the world. We see our differences before we see our commonalities. We see the part before we see the whole. We need to look at things from a dialectic perspective, like Khalil Gibran did in his master piece, The Prophet.

I don’t believe either that we can say we are here to learn and evolve… being part of the whole, the soul has it all, knows it all, is perfect. It’s love and joy. Maybe all there is is love. I believe we are experiencing an adventure here with the normal ups and downs of any adventure. The physical aspect of our body allows us to become aware of certain aspects of this adventure that for the subtle part of our being would be impossible to experience.

The adventure makes us increasingly aware of our divine nature, of our wholeness.

Our inner healer

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Mainstream Western medicine is starting to pay heed to a principle that has been endorsed by other cultures for centuries: Our body is a self-regulating organism that contains what we could call an inner healer. This healer, which is not limited to instinctive reactions as it has been understood under a Newtonian paradigm for the last few centuries, is in charge of surveillance and communication, storage of information, evaluation of what is going on in the body at any given moment and organization and expression of the body as a whole.

The inner healer is also responsible for providing suitable solutions to adaptive challenges imposed by the environment. It draws on information the body has memorized and learned in order to perform its functions and therefore, we can call it an intelligent healer.

Each one of our skin cells lives for about 36 days. When one cell dies, another replaces it. How else could we explain that our skin lasts a whole lifetime? Our red blood cells live up to 119 days. However, the number of red cells remains constant in the blood.

We totally renew our body every seven years. It happens without our intervention, although, of course, we need to guarantee the raw material. Because our tissues are made up of materials that come from the nutrients we eat, the water we drink and the air we breathe, the quality of our tissues will depend on the quality of our food, water and air.

Who or what instructs our body to do the regeneration and repairing jobs? How does the body know that it has to build skin cells in the skin and red blood cells in the blood?

We have to assume that there is intelligence imprinted in our organism. There is some sort of software in our energetic (subtle) bodies and in our genes as well, that maintains our life. Some kind of blueprint within and/or around our cells must mediate the communication system in the body, granting regeneration and reparation of our tissues, and therefore, survival.

Stress is what defeats this inner healer, which resides in our subtle bodies as well as in the depths of our entrails; stress breaks the balance and generates dis-ease.

Excessive and cumulative stress is the result of the lifestyle we have chosen according to cultural, social, and financial factors. Among these are the roles that we play in society, the quality of our interpersonal relationships, the preference for processed food over natural produce, our nutritional habits, the way we exercise and breathe, the level of our self esteem, our sense of safety, our spiritual life and positive or traumatic experiences. All these elements affect the way in which our body responds to stress, which is a constant in our ever-changing lives.

A certain amount of stress in life is unavoidable and even stimulating and healthy, and the body is fully equipped to deal with it. However, excessive stress has a cumulative effect that ends up compromising our body balance, hindering the body’s capacity to respond to stressors. Our capacity to respond to stress varies in each state of our life cycle, weakening us or helping us develop resiliency.

Health professionals who have chosen to practice in the fields of family medicine, public health and rural medicine know well the role that lifestyle plays in maintaining health. This is also well known to refugees and displaced people, populations affected by violence or disasters whose most common ailments won’t probably show up on x-rays or MRIs because they are just the result of mounting stress, deprivation and detrimental life conditions.

At the same time that technology feeds our ability to wonder, old basic truths about health and illness are resurfacing and being endorsed by scientific research. These truths speak of the human body as a marvelous system of systems, multidimensional (physical, emotional, mental, spiritual, social and cosmic) with an immense capacity to preserve, regenerate and repair itself.

How long will we continue to deceive ourselves by accepting a medicine that forces the laws of nature? Why continue in this path if there is clear evidence that by modifying our nutritional habits, exercising, reducing toxicity and stressors, we can in most cases avoid disease or keep symptoms at bay?