Working with Pain
by CoreyPine Shane on July 11th, 2012

“A New Approach to Working with Pain”
Part 1 of 3

Last year as I was preparing for a class at the Traditions in Western Herbalism Conference in New Mexico, I found myself thinking a lot about how we use herbs to treat pain. Too often we end up in the trap of just throwing herbs at pain, when we could be changing our whole relationship with pain, an experience that doesn’t just get rid of discomfort but helps us see life in a different way.

Though no one seeks out pain or discomfort, we do live in a culture that is more pro-comfort than any other culture in history. Our cars save us from walking and experiencing the weather, our heaters and air conditioning keep our homes and offices the same temperature no matter the season, and we are encouraged to relish in comfort and destroy any uncomfortable feelings.

We spend half our lives dodging the uncomfortable feeling of being in body: with music, TV, beer, sex, and chocolate croissants. These things aren’t bad in and of themselves, just as long as they don’t lead us away from ourselves. Pain is like the warning light on a car’s dashboard. It is the messenger, and when we shoot the messenger, the problems get worse.

Maybe that headache is a sign not to overwork, or that stomach ache is a sign not to eat dairy. When you hear/feel that message, ask what the true cause is, then be willing to sit with it until the answer appears. It might not be what you think at first, and in fact it is important not to think about it too much.

The most courageous and productive thing we can do is to feel into our discomfort, to stay with it, instead of running away. The bravest and most important thing we can do is to get comfortable with discomfort. This doesn’t mean engaging in self-pity, dwelling on the pain, or seeking out pain, but to be able to feel fully and so feel THROUGH it.

This exercise will make you a stronger person: The next time you feel pain, whether physical or emotional – stay with it. Look at it without trying to change it or think about it, just put your attention there and notice what you are feeling. Describe it in words if that helps – give it a color, a sound, or describe it metaphorically.

As you put your attention there, an amazing thing often happens – the sensation starts to recede and deeper emotions and sensations come to consciousness. There is a tendency to start thinking here, but stay with the feeling. Even with emotional pain, see where in your body you feel it. When we are able to sit and notice the true source of our discomfort, it is often less scary that we thought. Often the fear of feeling is worse than feeling the feeling.

This carries over to how we interact with others. When we see our friends and clients in pain, we can meet them there with the same awareness instead of offering simple platitudes. Too often we are afraid of someone else’s pain awakening our own pain. Know that you can hear someone’s story, have empathy and not have to get lost in their story.

Pain points to where we can grow. One of my yoga teachers would say that the point of yoga is not to be able to do everything easily but to be willing to make yourself a bit uncomfortable and meet your edge. “When you find your edge, that is where the yoga happens.”

In the same way, when we are able to sit with something less than comfortable and just be with it rather than fight the reality of our experience, then we get the gold. Then we grow stronger and deeper.

Herbs used to treat different kinds of pain.
Because, yes, there are times to treat pain.

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