Welcoming Pain as a Guide
Setting the scene: Typing these words as I lay on an ice pack.
So we're moving. Across the country. And I'm not sure how it happened, maybe it was just a build up of things like stress and moving heavy furniture, but my spine just couldn't take it anymore and herniated a disc in the lower back.
If you've had one of these before I'm so sorry! And for those who haven't let me tell you, it's incredibly painful. Nerve pain is very different than other pain responses.
So I found myself a great chiropractor, had an mri and voila - here we are two weeks later.
But I wanted to share something as a gift that was given to me during this time. I'm learning to welcome pain. Not in a way that I enjoy pain or am using it to feel alive, but welcoming it as a guide. (And in this writing, I'm speaking of physical pain.)
I didn't start by welcoming pain. I was super angry. We're moving, so of course, we're packing and cleaning and packing and cleaning. THIS was not what I needed right now when there is so much to do. Also as a spiritual director I sit and listen with others and at that moment I couldn't sit for five minutes without sharp pain, burning, tingling, in my back and leg, let alone the four day car ride that was in my very near future. So I spent a good two or three days just laying on an ice pack being super angry at the pain calling it names, frustrated at myself and my body.
Then I began to notice a nudging in my spirit. Thoughts like: What is physical pain really? It's not the actual injury, but it's the part of our bodies that works with our brains to say "Hey! Something is wrong! And I'm trying to get your attention!"
Also, I remembered that anger activates the sympathetic nervous system - that fight or flight response. And I wondered, is that really what I wanted my body to understand about the pain? That it was something I needed to fight or run away from?
As I prayed for the pain to go away, God brought to my mind the welcome prayer. I've prayed this prayer in other situations with other people or circumstances, but could it really fit here?
And maybe you're asking, what the heck is the welcome prayer? Well, Father Thomas Keating is attributed with this prayer. The Welcome Prayer is a method of consenting to God’s presence and action in our physical and emotional situations in daily life. The purpose of the Welcoming Prayer is to deepen our relationship with God through consenting in the ordinary activities of our day - even laying on an ice pack. The Welcome Prayer helps in letting go and helps to heal the wounds of a lifetime by addressing them where they are stored — in the body.
And so I give you the welcome prayer: (there are several versions with similar wording- this is the one I felt fit me for this situation.)
Welcome, welcome, welcome.
I welcome everything that comes to me today
because I know it’s for my healing.
I welcome all thoughts, feelings, emotions, persons, situations, and conditions.
I let go of my desire for power and control.
I let go of my desire for affection, esteem,
approval and pleasure.
I let go of my desire for survival and security.
I let go of my desire to change any situation,
condition, person or myself.
I open to the love and healing presence of God and God’s action within.
And so I practiced this into my icepack-laying-flat-on-my-back-then-exercise routine. And then as I was given an exercise to do 10 times a day I would say this prayer. Meditating/praying and breathing through the simple exercise. This type of activity stimulates the parasympathetic nervous system - that's the one that helps the body conserve energy and helps the body's systems function in a healthy way.
And while there is still pain, it's lessening. But I'm holding Pain in gratitude as my guide along the path of healing.