No, I am not responsible for the fact that I have chronic pain - for me, that means chronic migraines.
Yes, I am responsible for sometimes acting in ways that trigger migraines.
These two statements are not mutually exclusive. In my previous post (12 October), I wrote about taking responsibility without shame in the context of acknowledging that I sometimes take a piece of birthday cake at 4pm even though I know that sugary foods on an empty stomach usually trigger a migraine. The question is how to deal with this without shaming myself, which is destructive, but by taking realistic responsibility, which is constructive?
For me, it's a quiet, reflective time that opens a clear-sighted look at recent choices and behaviors without falling into guilt and shame. The method? One I learned when I made a 30-day spiritual retreat based on St. Ignatius' Spiritual Exercises. I am not Catholic, and I really am not sure most people would call me Christian any more, but I love the simplicity of what is now called the consciousness examen, or examination of consciousness. Although centuries old, this practice reminds me strongly of the 12-Step practice of "taking inventory" that is the Fourth Step, and that continues throughout life in recovery.
Here is a link to some descriptions and articles about it: The consciousness examen
Below is a simple list to use as a guide:
1. Become aware of God’s presence.
2. Review the day with gratitude.
3. Pay attention to your emotions.
4. Choose one feature of the day and pray from it.
5. Look toward tomorrow.
I believe that it does not matter how you read the first step: whether you imagine the traditional Christian God, or Shiva, or Allah, or Jehovah, or the Divine Creator, Mother God ---- you get the idea. Just become aware of What or Who it is that brings you to your spiritual center.
St. Ignatius made gratitude the beginning of all his spirituality: the Spiritual Exercises begin with a day or so of gratitude, as does the consciousness examen (second step, above). I have found it to be a wonderful practice that relates so well to the 12-Step idea of the "attitude of gratitude."
Paying attention to emotions includes being honest about naming them while trying not to label them negative or positive. This third step is most helpful to me when I make it less about searching for all the ways I have messed up during the day (or all the ways I have been wonderful), and more about simply getting quiet and allowing emotions to arise in me.
Out of these arising emotions, one usually seems more insistent or calls to me for attention, so that is the one I bring to the fourth step.
The fifth step, the look toward tomorrow, is about learning from the meditation and prayer of the process so far. If what has arisen involves the memory of losing my temper, ignoring a need, succumbing to addiction, etc., then it is positive and constructive to imagine behaving differently tomorrow.
The whole process need only take up to 15 minutes, and is obviously not only for folks dealing with chronic pain: this is a deeply spiritual and ages-old practice that is immensely beneficial for all people.
I would love to hear from you. Click on Comment below, or contact me at email@example.com.
Carol D. Marsh
- With a Master of Fine Arts in Creative Nonfiction degree (Goucher College, August 2014), I am looking at a new phase in my life. From 1992 to 2009, I served as Founding Executive Director of Miriam's House, a residence for homeless women living with AIDS. I left this position when Chronic Migraine Disease overtook my ability to do my job. Now I hope that a writing career will both accommodate the migraines and give me a creative, productive outlet. And soon, September 4, I will launch my Inkshares author page in a bid to hit the 1,000 pre-order goal in 90 days. The book I want to publish is "Nowhere Else I Want to Be," a memoir of ten of my years at Miriam's House.