“Life’s challenges are not supposed to paralyze you, they’re supposed to help you discover who you are.” ~Bernice Johnson Reagon
It is a vulnerable thing to talk about pain. There can be such a fear of being seen as weak or defective. New Age philosophies can create a sense of shame for those with pain by proposing that we should be able to manifest perfect health with the right meditations, health practices, and positive affirmations. So here I am, at this precipice of truth-telling, ready to take these risks, ready to face this fear.
I have struggled with frequent headaches for the last 6 years. After devoting a great deal of money and time to trying to understand and heal the underlying cause(s), I have settled on a self-care regimen that works most of the time. I have also, after years of conflicting information, come to recognize that these migraines are linked to some genetic predisposition. I am (at the least) the third generation in my family to have them.
Last week I had a humdinger of a headache, brought on by travel, rich foods, and not enough sleep. As I lay there with an ice pack on my head, I started bargaining with my body, with any force outside of myself that might be able to do something. “Please,” I said, “please!” and I started listing off all the reasons I thought my plea was justified. I felt the energy of striving, of struggling against my experience, of feeling I deserved something different, that I shouldn’t be having the experience I was having. I noticed how this perspective kept me feeling like a victim, and how it took me away from the moment.
As I recognized the contraction this approach was creating, I decided to shift my outlook. I chose to turn towards what was real in that moment. I thought about all the societal expectations that were weighing on me- the fear of disappointing my friend, the idea that special-once-a-year-visits-with-friends are not supposed to look like this. And I surrendered. I felt the weight lift as I consented to receive this experience just as it was. If this was what this visit would be, then so be it. It felt better to meet reality on its own terms. As my mental chatter subsided, my attention came to rest on my experience in that moment. I felt the soothing coolness of the ice, the soft rhythm of my breath, the weight of my body. I breathed into my forehead, touching sensations of pressure and constriction. I allowed them to be there. Slowly a sense of expansion arose that felt a little bit pleasurable, even joyful. Just feeling myself existing in this body was a gift.
The experience started to become more easeful and I reflected on how much these migraines have taught me. I have had to slow way down, to be quiet for long periods of time. I have had to release so many beliefs about how my body is supposed to function, how I am supposed to be in control of my experience. I think that these headaches have been one of my greatest teachers about mindfulness. Over and over again they show me that life is so much more easeful when I meet it with openness and non-judgmental awareness. Spending so much time being still has greatly enriched my relationship with my body and my capacity to feel tenderly towards myself. I have found this great sense of presence and aliveness that is more and more accessible whether my experience feels desirable or undesirable.
So, what adversity in your life is asking for your attention right now? What do you resist that might be asking for your acceptance? What might it be communicating to you? It seems that the challenging aspects of life often offer these hidden gifts. What gold have you found in the darkest moments? I would love to hear about your experiences including the parts that are still conflicted or confusing.