This road through pain; that is, handling it day to day, in the end has one central rule. It comes back over again – and it works each time. It is very simple, yet initially incredibly hard. Each time I use it, it gets easier.
Very simply, whatever the problem, you have to “rise above it” as my mother would say. I didn’t understand her then; I thought it meant shutting up and not complaining, not answering back to a bully, and stuffing the hurt deep inside. But what it means is get bigger than the problem.
The video, The Powers of Ten, starts with a simple shot of a picnic. Then the camera zooms out, further and further until the earth is a pinprick in space.
The Powers of Ten
And that’s what I do, remove my attention away from being inside the problem and move further back until the hurt becomes insignificant. I find a larger stage, where what’s happening to me becomes trivial.
My first attempt came from despair. The pain clinic had dropped me off the end, bluntly telling me they had run out of alternatives. Nothing had worked; in fact, most of their efforts made me worse. It was like being on a trampoline: I tried the next injection, drug or physio and spent the following month trying to get back to my normal level of pain.
It was a heartbreakingly sunny day for despair. I lay in a zero gravity chair watching the clouds, trying to make sense of my life. Where do I/can I go from here? My sacrum throbbed, a dull drumbeat in the background. There had to be some place else where my spirit can dwell, because living inside my body was miserable. Like pulling my foot out of sucking mud, I pushed and pulled my mood upwards. It was pointless arguing with myself; that was always spectacularly unsuccessful. Mental cheerleading didn’t work, possibly because it was so patently false.
What I needed was to reach a place above and beyond the pain, where I could dwell, where pain was a dull rumble in the background. It was monumentally hard at first, but it has got easier each time. Almost like switching off zoom in my psychological camera. I withdraw from my ego-land and the picture gets wider. My hurt is smaller and my vision includes hope and peace. As I kept practicing, it got slowly easier. Mainly I had to catch my self-talk and redirect it before it took hold. I still have bad days and have to manage my pain, but somehow it doesn’t matter. I am no longer wishing, comparing, resenting my lot.
Once I got the hang of positioning myself above, I found this applied all along the line. The trick is to take the long view, by which I don’t mean looking years ahead, but climbing higher, so when I look down at the problem, I see a bigger picture.
If a friend hurts my feelings, it really works to become an observer. Instead of replaying the scene through my eyes, stuck firmly in my body, I try to get to a place where I can see the whole, which includes both my propensity for hurt and the vulnerability of my friend. I have taken my SELF out of the equation.
What’s really crucial is to not to make the problem part of my identity. Not to be emotionally attached. I remember a student once saying to me, “I have got to a place where I can be rude to my mother.” To which I replied, “You need to get where you don’t need to be rude to her.” That must have been discouraging, but it is the key to healing. I have each time to get to a place where my story is diminished by a wider whole. It doesn’t mean that I accept abuse, but that I somehow find a spot in me that is whole. I may need to put my case, but not from inside me where it hurts.
Yes, there’s still pain and I have to work my day round it. I still can’t go to a movie or out for a meal and I still write blog entries lying on my back, but somehow deep inside it doesn’t matter.
Above and Beyond the Space of Pain – blog entry the first time I tried “rising above” pain – link