It hurts. REALLY. It's not made up, it is real and it is happening. Our autonomic nervous system uses the sympathetic division to help us to respond appropriately to stressful situation- fight, flight or freeze. Scientists named this division of an autonomous system in our bodies, SYMPATHETIC. We don't have to DO anything. The nervous system puts this sympathetic division into action without our conscious involvement. At the same time, the parasympathetic division is also working regulating systems in the body that we use at all times.
The question is: How sympathetic are we to our own pain? Do we attempt to understand, have compassion or get angry, frustrated, impatient? Like the previous blog on self-compassion, we can attempt to understand what is happening. How are thoughts shaping my experience right now?
Most beings are hard-wired to avoid pain at all costs. At our very base level, pain can signal danger and even death. It's no wonder the body and brain does its best to protect us. The body and mind have these ideas in mind-pain=danger& possible death, responding automatically with fight, flight or freeze. Those are the physical responses or impulses to pain, whether it be physical or emotional pain. The mind will usually identify this experience in much the same way, attempting to protect us or prevent further discomfort, based on knowledge gained from past experiences that are similar to the current experience. It is very logical and smart. It serves us very well in many situations.
However, the mind and the nervous system often cannot tell the truth of what is happening. Sometimes, we can perceive a situation incorrectly. I often use the analogy of the poisonous snake. Imagine you are walking in a dimly lit place. It is an area where there are poisonous snakes, you have been warned to look out and be careful. As you are walking, you see a coiled object. The mind is quick to identify and react to perceived danger, much quicker than we are consciously able to. The autonomic nervous system will react, increased heart rate, sweat, hair standing on end, breathing changes. We may be able to consciously hear thoughts like, beware! Snake! Be careful! As we get out our flashlight and shine it on the coiled object, we laugh at ourselves as it is just a piece of rope! We have no control over this automatic reaction. We cannot know if it is a REAL danger or a perceived one.
As I am now in REAL pain, due to an injury and the subsequent pains from my body compensating for the first injury,it is very easy to get angry, irritated, impatient and launch into despair. Having these type of emotions is natural. There is nothing "wrong" with this feelings. It only becomes a problem when I am not mindful or aware of my thoughts regarding them. If I attempt to ignore, push away or avoid them and get swept away into stories about them, it makes the experience more difficult than it is. I may be reacting instead of responding in a skillful way. Reactions are automatic. Responses are chosen.
What we need in times of REAL pain, is more compassion, more patience and more understanding. We must surrender to the reality of the pain and yet, not buy into stories about the pain, about people in our lives or about ourselves. Challenging thoughts is a very important part of dealing with chronic pain. Acknowledging the truth of the pain, being kind and gentle with ourselves without moving into despair.
Experiences of losing physical abilities is especially difficult. It is very easy to fall into feeling hopeless. It requires us to slow down, lower our expectations and accept our limitations, without focusing on stories of everything we can't do. If you are someone who has difficulty slowing down, it can feel torturous!
Disappointment can become a common experience with ourselves or with others when we are in pain. Again, if we can slow down and be aware of the thoughts fueling these experiences, we can have more power to choose. Can I forgive myself and others for not meeting my expectations? Can I ask for what I really need or is this another story that I am lost in about my own fears? How do I want to respond to this? If I were MY friend, going through this, how would I want to treat them? For most of us, it would be love, patience, understanding, generosity and kindness.