You can't heal your body unless you're in it. Sounds reasonable, right? Then how come the instant most of us get sick we check out, the sooner the better? We feel pain or discomfort, we get scared, we withdraw. We're out of our bodies so fast, the last thing on our minds is to rally every iota of awareness and energy to the part of us that most needs attention. You might ask, How would this help? Let me explain. Intuitive truth 1: The more love and consciousness you bring to your body when it is ill, the better chance you'll have of mending it. Intuitive truth 2: If you resist discomfort, it will persist. If you soften around it, it will lessen.
Let's get specific. You have what you're going to discover is appendicitis. First signs? You're in agony, curled in the fetal position on your bed. Your body is sending out a frantic SOS. Something's really wrong. You have no choice but to listen. You head for the emergency room. You need surgery. No way out. Next thing you know, you wake up in recovery, sans appendix. You made it. Your acute pain obviously had a purpose. It got you, fast, to the hospital. Some pain is short-lived. You have it. It's treated. It's gone. Even with pain of this kind, however, there's no question that informed attention is an asset. From the onset of a health crisis, focusing your intuition can get you past all-too-human resistances. For instance, people frequently die of heart attacks, failing to heed the warning of their angina. As they say, Denial is not just a river in Egypt. Intuition combats denial. By tuning in to pain, you'll get a more incisive take on how to deal with it. But, in general, here is a strategy that never fails: Loving-kindness. Conscious softening. Releasing resistance and fear. Not forsaking the body. This is where you begin.
What if pain becomes chronic? My patient Meg, a corporate attorney used to being in charge-a control freak, really-was diagnosed with a bulging lumbar disc. Compressing the sciatic nerve, this disc caused excruciating pain in her lower back and down her leg. Pain became Meg's enemy. Drawing on techniques honed in years of legal warfare, she went on a crusade to eradicate it: anti-inflammatory drugs, ice packs, acupuncture, physical therapy, and gradual exercise. She did everything her doctor told her. Still the pain was there. The more she dreaded it, the worse it got. One day she hobbled into my office, cane in one hand, and cell phone in the other. An impossible juggling act, heart rending to see. On the verge of tears, she said, "I can't take it anymore. I hate this pain. I just want to get rid of it." Of course she did. Any of us would. But Meg was working against herself.
I had to teach Meg something contrary to her style of being in the world. She just wasn't going to be able to conquer her pain. She'd have to harmonize with it. For a bold spirit like Meg, this would be no easy task. Nor was this issue hers alone. So often in medicine we have it backwards. We attempt to repair the body without consulting it. Pain has its own spirit, language, intelligence, and rhythm. Pain is absolutely alive. It will speak to you, not in the usual sense but on an intuitive level. First, open up communication. Odd as it may seem, ask your pain-or any illness for help. Healing is collaboration, an opportunity to learn from a sometimes demanding but most enlightened master. Approach your pain with deep respect. If you do, it will respond, point the way toward getting well.
These practices gave Meg the courage to mend past wounds and change present behaviors. It allowed compassion into many areas of her life. She never expected that part of her healing would be to allow other people to support her: letting a friend drive to the movies; asking a stranger to carry her bags when traveling. Meg's success wasn't only that her back pain subsided. Much about her started to melt: her rigidity, her tendency to beat herself up whenever she'd make a mistake, her impulse to give to others rather than take time to savor or receive. She has become more mindful of beauty. The glistening sunlit boughs of magenta bougainvillea arcing over her front porch don't go unnoticed anymore. Of course, Meg didn't achieve this overnight, but an extraordinary new pattern had begun. Self compassion is the most enduring antidote to pain or illness I know, a kind of oxygen that can revitalize. Moving toward it is a lifelong path.
Your body also gives you leads about recovering from pain or illness through its internal pictures. If you get sick you may have to undergo certain tests-X rays, ultrasound, CT scans, MRIS, or endoscopy - some more grueling than others but all with their intuitive upside. I'd like you to begin to consider these tests a training ground where you can learn to zero in intuitively. I can't overemphasize the importance of having a distinct mental image of the part of you that needs to be healed. These tests offer you that. Their visuals are structural reference points that further ground you in your body.
Intuitive healing is always body-interactive. Why not put your medical procedures to intuitive good? Why deny yourself such an asset? When traveling in a foreign country, wouldn't you prefer to have a guidebook? I know tests can be scary, especially if something is wrong. Even so, don't miss the magic of seeing into your body, a connector between you and the substance of which you are made. The martial arts concept of mu-shin, or "no mind," means no separation between mind and body. Power flows from this unity. Our physical self, our emotions, a healthy body or an organ with disease-our capacity to heal strengthens as we become one with it all.
Meeting The Master:
A Meditation For Dealing With Pain and Illness
- Relax into the discomfort. Don't try to change it or rid yourself of it. Simply let the pain be. Gently breathe through any tightening, fear, resistance. Loosen your grip. Get to know the geography of your pain. Map it out. Become familiar with it.
- Intuitively tune in to the discomfort. Does it have color? Texture? Emotion? Is it hot? Cold? Does it move or stay in one place? Do you notice images? Sounds? Scents? Memories? Ask the discomfort: What can I learn from you? How can I case my pain?
- Focus lightly on the discomfort. Feel it completely. As you inhale, breathe all your pain in. Visualize it as a cloud of dark smoke. Let it flow throughout your body, right to the core of your compassion. Now picture every last bit of the black smoke dissolving, purified by love. As you exhale, imagine this love as clear white light. Send it back to your area of discomfort. Breathe in pain. Breathe out compassion. Breathe in pain. Fill the pain with the healing breath of compassion.