I have been living with a new level of pain recently. Something in my cervical vertebrae has pinched some nerves that feed my left arm and hand and there are moments that it takes my full concentration to pay attention to anything else. Nerve pain is unique in that it does any number of things to seemingly disassociated limbs. Shooting pains, heaviness, tingling, aching all dance around each other. My mother fell down some stone stairs when I was twelve. For most of my memory she lived with chronic nerve pain. I never understood her experience so deeply until recently.
Initially I tried to medicate the pain, but as my mother could attest, nerve pain is not easily quieted by a couple of Advil. I know a little bit about chronic pain and how emotionally and mentally debilitating it can be to live with pain that won’t go away.
Then I surrendered to the voice of pain and started spending hours in meditation trying to listen to it. At first, I didn’t know I was listening. I thought, that I could breathe it away. But the more I tried to chase it away, the stronger it held on.
It was the moment that I stopped trying to eliminate it that I actually started to feel it. Here is the miraculous thing I learned: even pain only wants our attention. Once you pay full attention to the painful feelings in the body, they transform right in front of your eyes. Amazingly, adding a dose of gratitude to that attention shifts things even more deeply.
I would have never thought I could feel grateful for the pain in my shoulder until I realized how much it had to tell me that I wasn’t listening to in my heart. I didn’t know realize how much attention I had been denying my own experience until this aggravated, heavy shoulder started screaming at me to lie still and listen deep and hard inside.
Pain is not constant, it is a voice as clear as song with rhythms and melody that rises and falls. Sometimes it was twenty minutes before I felt the shifts, sometimes it was forty minutes, but I have gotten better and better at hearing the calls to lie down and relax. I have learned how to stop putting myself behind all the other immediate needs, whether it is my kids or my work.
My pain in my shoulder is a voice of reason trying to teach me balance. Pain unheeded will get louder in disease forms. I am listening and happy to lie down as much as needed to witness the process of healing in myself. It is gratefully as simple paying attention.