Pain: One of Our Greatest Teachers

What is pain? One dictionary definition is "unpleasant sensory and emotional experiences, associated with actual or potential tissue damage." Others include "distress," "punishment," "a basic bodily sensation induced by a noxious stimulus ... characterized by physical discomfort ... and typically leading to evasive action."

Most of us generally perceive pain as something to be avoided if possible. Let us remember, however, that it can be a friend, a warning. For example, persons with diabetes who have lost sensory perception, can get severe burns that could have been much less serious, had they been able to feel the "noxious" stimulus.

Through recent experiences with pain in my lower torso, I have been exploring the option of perceiving pain as teacher. Pain generally has to be at least of medium intensity to attract my attention. Last week I felt a pain in my right groin that occurred only upon arising, and I thought to myself "oh, this will go away - it isn't important." Guess what shows up the next day! By the third day it was interfering with any body movement, even turning in bed, and I decided I'd better acknowledge its presence, and get some help from others. After conferring with colleagues, I realized it must be another manifestation of nerve root irritation from my spinal area. Sure enough, the pain soon moved to my right low back. I received some manipulative treatments, yet I found myself loathe to take the usual constant anti-inflammatory medication that is the standard treatment for this. Some memories of other teachings I have received came to mind, repeatedly: pain is just pain - let yourself feel it. It is possible that the way through it is to be willing to feel it. Also, a helpful mnemonic kept surfacing:

L = Let go to the now (the present moment), to Life
A = Ask for help (whatever the issue is)
A = Accept that what is happening right now is help (guidance)
P = Pain: when pain arises, return to "L" above (as in a biofeedback loop)

So I have been using this experience to explore allowing the pain to be a teacher, a signal. At times the pain has been intense, and I have had to crawl around on my hands and knees to avoid flaring it up. However, as soon as possible after such a flare, I would turn inside to listen, in my heart, for what is needed now. Sometimes it has been changing a physical situation, such as finding a firmer surface on which to sleep. Usually, however, it would be taking time to do some emotional release work that I am learning: letting go of old emotional feelings that I had stuffed unconsciously. Once it seemed important just to listen to my little inner voice about some attitudes I was holding, being honest about seeing these in myself (I'd generally prefer to ignore seeing difficult aspects of myself), and choosing, from deep inside, to let go of old judgments and resentments that I'd been unconsciously holding onto (including those made against my self!)

I have been amazed at the results of my willingness to do this inner work. Each time, after releasing old stuff, the pain has improved dramatically. Then later it returns, sometimes in somewhat different form, never severe enough to get further outside help, at this point.

Written by Elizabeth Coleman, MD


2 Responses to “Pain: One of Our Greatest Teachers”

  1. The Importance of Acceptance in Healing and Personal Growth | Healing Base on December 19th, 2011 14:42

    […] my life now. Last month I shared with you how I was learning, at least for brief time periods, to let my pain be my teacher. My! how difficult it was at other times – all I wanted was to be rid of this apparent […]

  2. Balwinderbajwa on March 4th, 2016 06:34

    Thanks for this great stuff!

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