What’s the Secret Gift of Pain?
This question alone may bring the healing you’ve been searching for.
By Dr. Kirsten Perkins DC
If a friend were to shout as loudly as possible, “Stop! Pay attention! Now!” You would listen, right? Pain is nature’s way of saying just that. It’s calling you to pay attention to something --- something that you may not want to give your awareness to.
Across age, culture, education and economic status, none of us are immune. Pain is part of being alive, but it doesn’t have to rule your life.
Have you ever considered the idea that pain might be more than a simple annoyance to get rid of? What if pain held the secret to living life more fully? No matter what therapy is being applied, I’ve seen this conversation alone initiate wonderful changes for people.
I am going to introduce the 4 main types of pain so you can begin to decipher your experiences through a new lens.
The Pain of Avoiding Pain
First, there’s the pain of avoiding pain. This is very much of the body. It’s that moment when you’d do anything to get rid of it. We’ve all been there. Anxiety, fear and denial drive us to run from whatever is hurting. Our culture really supports this behavior too. But you’ll be amazed at what can occur when you allow yourself to hurt without simultaneously trying to get rid of it.
For example, one night I woke up with a vicious migraine. I thought, “This hurts so much I want to die! I’ll never sleep! How am I going to see patients tomorrow?” I was in agony. I was definitely at battle with my body.
Then I applied exactly what I ask patients to do – be completely connected and with their pain. I put on a quiet Kirtan Chant and sat in my bed. I gently rocked my spine, neck and head letting the music move through me. I invited the pain of the migraine to devour me as pure experience. Within 30 minutes I was carried into a state of peace and grace. I’ve never forgotten that amazing lesson: presence, no matter what, is the way to connection and peace.
Pema Chodron’s brilliant saying gets to the heart of what can happen when we stop fighting against pain. “Only to the extent that we expose ourselves over and over to annihilation can that which is indestructible in us be found.”
The Pain of Managing Pain
Next is the pain of managing pain. This one is pain of the mind, but will also have physical anchors in the body. The conversation for the person often involved being overwhelmed by life’s circumstances. We can’t manage the business, the kids, the relationship, the disease, etc.
For example, a child has chronic respiratory infections. Mom researches the condition, budgets for care, rearranges diet, and drives all over town for the best specialist, only to leave that doctor for the next best. She’s frazzled, and it’s all she talks about with friends. Her beloved wonders if there is room for anything else.
In treating the child, conversation revealed that mom felt overwhelmed managing life, even before symptoms. Bringing this pattern to her awareness and supporting her was part of the treatment. Later she shared that the respiratory infections, now resolved, were a gift that helped her to become aware that she needed to reorganize the way she was running her household.
The Pain of Not Making Enough Progress
The third type of pain is the pain of not making enough progress. This pain is of our higher mind centers. In this case there’s a difference between what we think should be happening and what is actually happening. Our concepts of ourselves and what we’re looking to achieve in the world are threatened.
Take, for example, a 41 year old competitive athlete and CEO who fractured his spine – he was depressed and suffering. No treatments were working. We quickly discovered that this highly successful man had rigid beliefs about how quickly he should heal. When it wasn’t happening his whole concept of himself was threatened. His pain was deepening. Once we uncovered and addressed this along with his care, he was out of back pain in weeks.
The Pain of Not Knowing Your Gifts
Finally, there is the pain of not knowing your gifts or not believing that you have gifts to give. This is the deepest and hurts the most --- this is soul level pain. Someone will feel that there is no purpose for living.
If this is truly a person’s struggle, doesn’t it make sense that their digestive issues are only slightly improved, despite awesome nutrition?
I see this often in the practice with our young adults who are not yet sure how they are going to positively make their mark. If this pain is supported with awareness, it can fuel some of the world’s most influential people. The pain is basically motivating. Biographers of Mother Teresa report that she was acting from an ongoing emptiness – and what a gift she was to the world.
Each type of pain brings a unique gift. Tony Robbins is known to say, “If you want to positively influence someone (or something) you have to value them first.” In this case, value pain. What if its purpose is to interrupt your ordinary life? What if it is a calling for something extraordinary?
I want to suggest that spiritual awakening and knowing yourself are not outside of healthcare. They are the highest order of health – and pain may be what gets you there.
Based on Dr. Donny Epstein DC’s “Pain Integration.” Dr. Kirsten uses these principles along with advanced clinical nutrition and transformational chiropractic at Sojourn Wellness Center.