In our society we're too often separated from harmony with the natural world and ourselves. Healing is something we do when we get sick, not a way of life. Determining your stance on how you handle illness is pivotal, whether you get sick or not. Why? Because it crystallizes your priorities-not just about health issues but about how you face everything. How you cope with getting ill is how you cope with any stress. The difference may be that when your health is poor, the volume is turned up and your limits are stretched.
As a physician who specializes in teaching patients to listen to intuition-the body's own voice-I know how this can help you act on pain faster, and heal it. Intuition is a potent form of inner wisdom not mediated by the analytic mind. It's a still, small voice inside that we all have, though many of us haven't been taught to recognize it. You may experience intuition as gut feeling, a hunch, a knowing, or a snap-shot-like-flash. Pain is a type of intuition, a way of relocating you in your body so you know something is out of balance.
You can't heal your body unless you're in it. Most of us check out of our bodies from the moment we get sick. We feel pain and discomfort, we get scared, and we withdraw. We're out of our bodies so fast the last thing on our minds is to rally every ounce of awareness and energy to the part of us that most needs attention. Let me explain why this helps.
First, the more love and consciousness you bring to your body when it is ill, the better chance you have of mending it. Second, if you resist discomfort, it will persist. If you soften around it, it will lessen. In the Journal of Perinatal Education, Lamaze, a breath technique for softening pain during natural childbirth, has been documented to ease many mothers through labor. Success comes when the mothers relax with the pain instead of clenching around it.
This is a very different philosophy from just swallowing a pill, sitting back, and waiting for the pain to leave. If this is new for you, try it once, and see the results. No one wants to have pain, but sometimes we may be timid about trying something different. The beauty of listening to the intuitive language of pain and showering yourself with lovingkindness is that you will get results. Feel into the pain or illness. Listen to it. Learn from it. There's no guarantee your distress will miraculously lift, though it might. What will happen is that you will enter into a relationship with a force that will provide clues on how to heal.
The use of breath for pain relief is hardly alien to Western culture. Based on the principles of Lamaze-which helps laboring mothers breathe through childbirth-we stop resisting pain and develop compassion for our bodies.
Here is a meditation I suggest based on a Buddhist exercise called Tonglen.
Relax into the discomfort. Don't try to rid yourself of it. Just let the pain be.
Visualize your discomfort. Does it have color? Texture? Emotion? Ask the discomfort, "How can I ease my pain?"
Focus lightly on the pain. Feel it completely. As you inhale, breath all your pain in. Visualize it as a cloud of dark smoke. Let it flow through your body. Now picture every last bit of your pain purified by love. As you exhale imagine love as a clear white light. Send it back to the area of pain. Breathe in pain. Breathe out compassion. Breathe in pain. Fill the pain with the healing breath of compassion.
For most of us the premise of this meditation is radical. It says that by actively engaging pain, we can transmute it, a form of mystical alchemy never to be misconstrued as succumbing to weakness or admitting defeat. Harmonizing with pain will relieve it, not make it worse.
Intuition can help you act quickly on acute pain. Perhaps you're going to discover you have appendicitis. The first signs are agony, curled in a fetal position on your bed. Your body is sending out a frantic intuitive SOS. Something's really wrong. The quicker you listen and head for the emergency room, the quicker the problem will be diagnosed and solved. You find you need surgery and there's no way out. Next thing you know, you wake up in recovery, sans appendix. You made it. Your acute pain obviously had a purpose. It got you to the hospital, fast. Acting on your body's intuition can prevent the excruciating pain and potentially fatal complications of a ruptured appendix. I've worked with stoic or macho patients who've needlessly endured severe pain and suffered dangerous consequences. Part of loving ourselves and honoring intuition is to heed the "danger" messages we receive. Sometimes, in cases like appendicitis, when you yourself can't improve or repair the pain, intuition gives you the message to get help.