While I wouldn’t wish pain on anyone, I don’t always think it’s best to make it go away as fast as possible. Sometimes the need to manage pain takes us inward, prompting us to understand our workings and to heal longstanding patterns that might otherwise have never been discovered.
My starting point in pain management is a fundamental principle of Chinese Medicine: All pain is caused by stagnation. When things move freely (muscles, joints, blood, poop, etc.), we feel good. When they don’t, we feel bad.
If we overeat and food is stagnant in our digestive tract, we feel uncomfortable. If blood stops moving through the vessels in our heart, it causes a crushing pain. If our muscles are inflamed or tight (stagnation), they hurt. In the same way, if we broke up with someone but we keep fantasizing about them or replaying our conversations, this also is a form of stagnation, and it’s painful. If we’re attached to life being a certain way, it’s not that way, we don’t accept it, and we feel bad… guess why.
So, the restoration of flow is my focus, no matter what kind of pain a person is in. Besides understanding the mechanism of stagnation in causing and perpetuating pain, it’s important for everyone to know these four sub-principles:
1: All of our many parts are interconnected, so stagnation on one level can readily lead to stagnation on another level. Two examples: If we’re chronically angry, tense, or sad (emotional stagnation) this can eventually show up as, say, a tension headache or lower back pain (physical stagnation). Vice versa, living in a tight and inflexible body (physical stagnation) can contribute to a lack of mental flexibility – rigid thinking, frustration, depression, etc.
2: Clearing stagnation on any level tends to promote flow on all levels. For instance, physical exercise is beneficial for depression, because moving the body moves the mind. Likewise, using the mind to imagine energy and blood coursing freely through a painful area of the body can often be as effective as painkillers. For this reason, stretching the mind – challenging our beliefs, thinking outside our usual patterns, meditating, actively exploring our inner terrain – is excellent for mind-body health.
3: Resisting reality promotes stagnation. Philip K. Dick said, “Reality is that which, when you stop believing in it, doesn’t go away.” Fighting reality amounts to inner resistance and resistance causes stagnation. In my opinion, it’s one of the most basic mechanisms of human pathology: an inner “no” that causes us to close and fragment ourselves. Resistance of what’s happening (not just our circumstances but also our own thoughts and feelings) causes an additional dimension of discomfort and hampers our ability to change our condition. In a pain scenario, the resistance of an already stagnant condition inevitably makes it worse.
4: Active acceptance is the opposite of resistance and promotes healing. Acceptance is a combination of willingness, openness, and nonattachment. When we’re totally willing to experience the reality of this moment, with every aspect of ourselves, with absolute openness and trust, simultaneously letting go entirely of any desire to control what happens next, healing happens automatically. It may not look like a tumor instantly disappearing or pain dropping from a ten to a zero, but something will change. This isn’t a do-it-once magic formula, it’s a way of life. And if pain is what leads you to it, you may end up thanking your pain.
If these ideas resonate with you, check out my online course, Live Pain Free, for many more ways to get out of pain and experience greater peace and happiness in the process.