“Perhaps everything terrible is in its being something that needs our love.” -Rainer Maria Rilke
The last few days have been marked by an acute and relentless pain in my upper back and neck. It has prevented me from most higher level thinking and has awakened in me a deep compassion for those who live with chronic pain, as well as a profound gratitude for our ability to heal. There is nothing like illness or injury to make you realize that our health and well-being is our most essential blessing. Just feeling fine in your body is a miracle — or it feels like one when I think about it today.
Pain reminds us that to take our body for granted is foolish and the most ridiculous kind of arrogance. Especially as I approach my 50th birthday, there is no hesitation for me to see my body as the temple of my existence. Pain separates the wheat from the chafe in our thoughts; there simply isn’t enough room for unnecessary anxiety or negative distractions. Simply working with the physical cues and generating enough self-healing compassion is almost a full time activity when you are experiencing pain.
Rest is no longer a moral obligation, it is just the truth of it. I reflect on my habitual overdoing and worse still, relentless trying, and know that my next decades have to be lifted and aided by the ease and grace of finding flow. It is not about working harder, it is cultivating internal clarity that makes the doing effortless, or so I hear. These last days, the message is loud and clear in my shoulders.
I am grateful to have these forced moments of stillness. I am grateful for a quiet place to feel my own pain and take the time to care for myself. All the doing and aspiring sits down for a rest and I lean to the place of being. Pain brings you to your proverbial knees and I realize how many blessings of well-being go by that I don’t even pay attention to.
Our attention is everything. What we focus on shifts and transforms. Attending fully to others or yourself is what love is made of, it is the fuel for our heart’s capacity to open. The thought patterns that consume us work the same way in the body, but watching them with our full and tender attention is the cure. Just don’t expect it to be overnight. Like the mess of our politics, it takes the same amount of time to unwind as it did to wind it up.
Learning patience with pain is how we develop courage. As we allow ourselves to witness the discomfort we realize how strong we are. We learn the edges of our tolerance and gently get challenged to expand them. This is the lifelong process of growing up, growing older. Living in the humble presence of my body’s most powerful language, I bend and wait for the healing that I know is in me.