Willie showed up as a stray over ten years ago and was adopted by my neighbor four doors down. He’s not particularily attached to me and when I pass him on my daily walk, he barely acknowledges me. But even with this cool reception, I still feel lots of love for him because when I was hurting he made a big effort to help me.
One morning as I stepped into the garage, the pain and tension in my pelvic floor area reared up, and I decided to sit on my heels and curl my body forward. I learned this position in yoga (child’s pose) and sometimes it helped to relieve the pain. While I was down there with my head close to the cement I heard Willie come into the garage. He put his head on mine and moved his paws with a rhythmical kneading motion and mewed and purred. I just let him do his thing. After several minutes, he stopped and I stood up, and the pain had dropped.
Then one afternoon, I was in my yard taking out the trash cans when the pain and tension in my low back and pelvis rose up. I squatted down next to the trashcan hoping to relax the area, and Willie showed up immediately and placed his body across my low back.
During the years when I was hurting, I often sat on my front porch in the dark and looked up at the stars. After a few minutes I would hear Willy mewing and it would get louder and louder as he made his way down the street with his paws sounding like a faint drumbeat on the sidewalk. As we sat together under the moonlight I often felt my body relax in his company.
Part of my healing process was to recognize that love was flowing around me all the time, and often where I least expected it. Willie was one of my first teachers. One night as we were sitting in the dark a thought popped into my head, “Let him love you.” And I did.
As I stood in our small backyard and looked out over the concrete and pool, I spied the lone tree in the center of our small patch of grass. Spring was in full bloom, and there it stood with its skinny trunk, a smattering of dusty leaves, and a few faded flowers. Four years ago when we brought this tree home from the nursery, I envisioned a canopy of pink flowers, but the tree never delivered. For years I’ve been telling my husband that it’s time to pull it out, and he always convinces me to give the tree a little more time. I suspect he doesn’t want to dig it up.
Then just the other day as I looked out at the tree, it dawned on me that it needed help. After making sure my neighbors weren’t watching, I stood close to the tree, closed my eyes and circled my fingers around the trunk. I work with patients combining my physical therapy background with energetic bodywork, and I smiled at how crazy it was to consider this tree as a patient. When I work with people, I assume a quiet, meditative state, and sometimes my hands move automatically to place my fingertips over specific locations on my client’s bodies. I can’t explain how I know where to go, but intuitively I often land right in a person’s most painful area. To my surprise, my hands moved in a similar way on that tree, and soon the second and third fingertips of my right hand were gently pressing into a specific spot on the back of the trunk. It felt a bit rough, so I opened my eyes and found my finger pads covering a distinct hole that had scarring around it. I wondered if this was a place where disease or bugs had entered the tree.
Perhaps this energy work will help the tree heal, but that’s not the point. As I stood there with my hands on that little trunk, I started to have more compassion for this living thing that had struggled to put on a show each spring. I told my husband that no matter what the tree looked like, I wanted it to stay put for as long as it lived. He said, “No problem, it was never really on the list.”
The next day, I realized that my lack of compassion for that distressed tree mirrored my lack of compassion for myself throughout my life and especially when I was hurting. This changed as I worked for over five years to heal from debilitating chronic pain. As I healed through the layers, I found that the best way to cope with a painful flare up was to love myself through it. And this wasn’t ordinary love; this was fierce love. It was being compassionate with myself even when I had energy for little else. Over the years, I had many flare ups and lots of practice, and my ability to love myself grew. I began to feel connected to all the beings around me especially when they were suffering….even trees.
I was going through a stressful time, and my pain condition was starting to ramp up again. My life coach, Iben, encouraged me to go to the ocean. She said that I could fill up my internal reserves and connect with God/the Universe in nature and especially at the ocean.
The minute I sat down in the sand, tears poured out. After about fifteen minutes my emotions calmed, and I said out loud, “Show me how to move forward here.”
Immediately I noticed a flock of mini sandpipers. They ran in as the waves retreated, and ran out just ahead of the rush of water, and all the time they poked their beaks in trying to get a meal. Then I noticed another flock of birds flying above the crashing waves and thought, “I need to be above it all, just like those birds.”
Then I realized that it wasn’t two separate flocks, and the same birds were both soaring and scrambling. And when the birds were on the ground, they never got tumbled up in the waves.
Those birds were my teacher that day. I realized that I can view my life from a higher perspective and then drop down to participate in my life- messy as it is. And while I was down here trying to get my needs met, I could avoid getting tumbled up in the chaos by staying in tune with the nature around me and going with the flow.
Photo by: Mariane Gabriel
Before my illness, I wondered if spiritual experiences were simply the result of activating the brain in a different way. When I read Eckart Tolle’s description of living peacefully in the moment, I thought that in response to his depression- he had simply learned to decrease the activity of the brain’s frontal lobes and to increase the activity of other parts of his brain. This notion was confirmed when I read that certain brain areas are active on functional MRI when people feel connected to the Universe/God in deep meditation.
But then during the peak of my chronic pelvic pain, I looked up one night as I was taking out the trash and for the first time I really saw the moon and stars. Over years and years of healing, I looked up more and more often. I began to appreciate that, like the brain, the universe is vast, mostly unknown, and full of potential. It occurred to me that as human beings, the only way we experience the world is through our biological system, and if we are connecting to something more it would be reflected in our physiology.
This idea that there was more to the world than I had previously considered, and perhaps more to me than my basic biology- opened up new ways of perceiving and experiencing my life. When you think you have all the answers, you probably have all you are going to get! It is this openness to the idea that there is more, to us and to the world, that creates the possibility of experiencing it.
Photo by: Mariane Gabriel
A friend recently told me in a hushed tone that her son was starting psychotherapy and confided that he would be embarrassed if anyone knew about it. But for me, this was good news. We all have our unique combination of crazy, and you can’t get through life without being a bit broken. It is exciting to hear that someone is starting to look at what he/she is carrying because through this process they may experience less suffering and more joy.
I am also grateful when people choose this path because when one person decides to heal, it often shifts the experience of others. This was true for me, and recently my son told me that his experience in our family and in his life changed for the better after I started to work through my issues. The Dali Lama made this exact point when I heard him speak a few years ago on the topic of secular ethics. He said that change starts within the individual and then progressively flows to the family, the community, the country, and the world.
It can be difficult to honestly look within. In these times, remember that when you work to heal yourself, you are also working to heal the world.
I had a small pain flare up recently and three words kept popping into my head: faith, hope and love. It took me a few days to realize that these principles have always helped me move through my pain. If you are hurting, perhaps these principles will help you too.
Faith: Consider that this pain or adversity is not just random torture; it is a part of a bigger picture. Have faith that this experience has purpose and meaning.
Hope: Remember that life flows and changes over time, and that life always has peaks and valleys. Have hope that “this too shall pass”.
Love: Use the pain as a reminder to be accepting and compassionate with yourself, to love yourself fiercely. The more you love yourself, the more it flows to everyone around you too, dissolving hurt and resentment that you may hold inside.
Once again, I am reminded that it is through our brokenness that we become whole.
With these ideas in mind, my body quieted and the pain level dropped.
My nephew posted on Facebook, “I am like a duck gliding smoothly on the surface and paddling like mad underneath.” I responded, “Sometimes I also glide smoothly on the surface and paddle like crazy underneath. Sometimes I have my butt up in the air just trying to get my needs met (and this isn’t always flattering), and sometimes I am flying above it all, synchronistically connected to all around me. And being a duck (actually being me) is being all of it, all at once.”
I used to think that I needed to be perfect in order to be loved, but over time I realized that seeing and accepting all parts of me was the most loving thing I could do.
p.s. And for those of you who noticed- this is not a duck. I just liked the attitude of this hawaiian goose.
On a few occasions, in the depths of pain, I laid on the papered treatment table as the nurse put medication into my bladder with a catheter. During the painful procedure, I sensed that the nurse was blaming my flare up on emotional issues and separating from me because I was visibly discouraged and angry. I was sensitive to this judgment because it mirrored my own internal state, and honestly I was probably my worst critic when I was hurting. On some level, I was angry at myself for being in pain, and I often discounted and ignored my painful body.
But over the healing years, I began to notice that the best way to get through the pain was to love myself through it. And not just in small ways; it was fierce love. It was being compassionate with myself even when I had energy for little else. It was being honest about the pain, listening to what my body was trying to tell me, and allowing myself to feel it. And in this way, each time the pain rose up to consume me, it also pried my heart open a little more.
There are few absolutes in life, but this one I know is true. We all have physical or emotional pain whether we want to admit it or not, and we could all use some “fierce love”.