In my early twenties, while driving to work in southern Illinois one rainy night, my accumulating back problems went over the edge when my car was broadsided by an oncoming vehicle. Treated for whiplash and a cervical spine injury, I was unable to work for weeks. I spent months going to chiropractic appointments and living with debilitating pain. Over time, I became able to return to my daily routines, but the chronic pain and the acute sciatica dominated my life and eventually led to my having a lumbar fusion at age 29. For several months following the surgery, it became increasingly challenging not to allow fear to completely submerse me in its grave of discouragement when I realized that little had changed: I could still FEEL the pain!
PAIN gets our attention; physical, emotional, big or small, we don’t like it. We live in a society that hates to FEEL the pain. We avoid it at all costs and attempt to numb it with anything in reach: pain killers, alcohol, excessive busyness, unhealthy relationships, and food. Pain is viewed as the enemy. But is it?
As I completed the fifth and final physical therapy session that my limited insurance plan provided me, it was quite obvious that I would have to take my rehabilitation into my own hands. Still walking with a cane and unable to tie my shoes, I hobbled out to the college running track night after night to walk my laps. My slow, feeble movements resembled those of someone much older, but each persistent step I took filled me with an inner strength and hope that I would not always be like this.
Pain is the warning signal of the mind and body that something is amiss, but is all pain bad? What would happen if we did allow our self to FEEL the pain? Maybe we would join a gym to lose the weight; forgive another to restore a broken relationship; hire a life coach to work on better decision making; go back to college to start a new career; see a marriage counselor to begin the road to healing; work through a twelve-step program to deal with our addiction. Could it be that in our hurried quest to shut out all the pain, we fail to realize that we shut out so much more?
As I fought for a return to my full health, walking and swimming countless laps to strengthen my back and regain what I had lost, I was often humbly reminded of the times that I had been so impatient at the mall or in the line at the grocery store when I encountered the disabilities of others. It’s amazing how the depth and insight of self-awareness and spiritual teaching becomes so much clearer when we allow our self to FEEL the pain.
Much more than our victories, PAIN makes us who we are.
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