What I learned from being fully present to my pain.
6 min read
The core value I have been living by for the last few years is authenticity. My quest: to be myself, to act and make choices from my deepest values, to speak the truth as I know it, and to be open and vulnerable about my feelings and needs. I feel more whole since I’ve been living by this value, I feel more free, and I feel more pain. I’ve felt the pain of grieving what I lose when I move away from what doesn’t align with my values. I’ve felt the pain of discovering how my old habits were formed to cover old wounds and to avoid getting triggered. My new way of being exposes these wounds by taking down my walls that also shielded me from life. I’ve felt the pain of being an outsider because I’m not willing to be less myself to fit in with a group or trend. As I feel it more, I have developed a relationship with my pain; we sit by the fire and talk, and it has so much to teach me.
Listening to my pain takes a special kind of presence.
It takes a willingness to open towards it, feel it fully, and stop judging it as bad or a problem. I still feel the resistance to feeling pain, and sometimes my body shrinks back and an intense urge to escape arises. I want to watch a movie or read the news or eat something sweet, and sometimes I follow that urge. When I have the space, I can be present to this urge and also feel it fully. Then I recognize it as a gatekeeper and a protection, it wants to keep me safe from feeling too much pain. I need to reassure the resistance that I am fully willing to feel whatever is held within the pain, and then it can soften and I can enter the tenderness of my sadness or the fierceness of my anger.
I have learned to integrate what my pain holds for me.
The main message I get from my pain is that a part of me has been left behind or left out in some way. Pain is a longing within me that hasn’t been fulfilled, that hasn’t been seen, heard or held, and so the longing, instead of unfolding into something beautiful in my life, gets blocked and stuck in its unfulfillment. A deep and beautiful relationship I was in ended recently, and I am often overwhelmed by grief. As I sit with this profoundly sad part of myself, I can feel the longing to belong, I can feel the longing to love and be loved, a deep longing for companionship. As I open to feel the sadness and the longing fully, I get a sense of a young part of me that also longed to belong. This 8 year old child was left behind. He wasn’t able to process the pain of rejection at school, and that is held within me until today.
My adult sadness gives me access to my younger sadness.
My younger sadness, this 8 year old boy, has been with me all this time; he has surfaced in every moment I wasn’t sure I belonged, he guided my behaviour subconsciously to make sure I would be liked, and ultimately he calls me now in this sadness so that he can come home. Now when I am open and present to my sadness, I can welcome him back into my wholeness.
I know I have many more lost children. Almost all of my adult pain reflects a young child part of me that got lost when it faced the pains of growing up, and when that pain passed a certain intensity, it was stored in me as trauma. I get more and more clear that my adult reactions to life are not necessarily proportionate to my present-day experience, but rather proportionate to the pain they tap into within me. I learn to give myself space for that, for the intensity when it arises, and I learn to give others that space also.
Everyone has lost parts of themselves along the way, everyone is influenced by that pain, and everyone longs for wholeness.
My journey through pain is to listen patiently and integrate whatever it is holding for me. Once I am in touch with my wounded part, my lost child, I can become more intimate with it. I can stay and give it the unconditional presence and compassion it was always longing for, and then it can tell me what is precious that it has been holding all this time. Belonging and a sense of home, being loved and celebrated for being born, the beauty of connection, integrity, embracing my sexuality are some of the deep values that my wounding has shown me, offered to me as treasures I had forgotten. In this way, I have learned that pain is always an expression of my essence, and it always invites me and shows me a way to return to that core of my being.
I have learned not to make choices out of pain.
Pain of all kinds has important messages for me, and sometimes that message is that what is happening to stimulate this pain isn’t aligned with what I want. When I have the space to hear that and feel the pain, then I can decide to move towards what I do want rather than trying to get away from what I don’t want. That way my choice is connected to my values rather than a reaction to the circumstances of my life.
I have learned my limits with pain.
There is a certain amount of grief, anger or hurt that I can hold alone. After that point, I know I need help. I need a compassionate witness to be with me in feeling what I feel because that gentle presence of another holds me. Their awareness is not entangled by my stories and the intensity of what I feel, so they can stay open and loving when I am too caught up to do so. That open, loving presence provided by someone else is often enough to give the welcoming space to the pain so it can reveal itself and its preciousness, and slowly integrate within me again. At another level of pain, I need guidance. I need someone who can stand in the intensity of trauma and help me navigate the overwhelm, who can stay present to the full breaking down and hold me, also physically, until wave after wave, the desperation moves through me. I am quick to ask for help when I need it, and I feel blessed to have mentors, friends and relatives who give me empathy with love and patience.
I have learned that it takes time.
To be with myself when I get triggered, when my wounding and painful emotions arise, I need to slow down. Sometimes I need to slow down my breathing, my movements or my responses to what is happening so that I can respond freely or ask for help. It also takes time to integrate the lost parts. I give my pain an unconditional space to be just as it is for as long as it needs to be that way, and little by little, as if by its own accord, it comes back to me. For deeper wounds, this can take hours and hours spread over months and months. In my experience, time alone will not do this healing movement, and I fully trust the combination of time with my compassionate, unconditional presence. I celebrate my tears as gifts from my heart that, drop by drop, make me more complete, more and more myself.
Living from my authenticity means moving beyond the avoidance strategies I used to use to not feel my pain. As much as I can, I feel all my feelings, let them flow through me, listen to the messages they have for me, accept the beauty and treasure they are holding and gather my lost children along the way. My life is not easier now; in many ways it feels harder, it takes more attention and support, and I often find myself alone with this new perspective. My life, especially my inner life, is much richer now; I feel much more free, connected with myself and others, empowered, and open to all of life in all its forms.