23 April 2011

Equanimity About Pain is Not Giving Up

Yesterday was Good Friday, it was Earth Day.  I knew it was coming and yet I missed it completely: I spent the day on my bed - with, thank God, my little dog curled up against my knees - the blindfold on, listening to a Golden Girls DVD for diversion.  I had my quiet time and a nap on that bed and behind that blindfold, was there when my husband left for work and when he came home.

Those sentences are statements of fact.  However much they may sound like complaining, they are really just a description of my day.  I don't remember thinking much about the significance of the day, I remember staying in each moment and accepting it for what it was: a day spent managing the pain of a migraine.  As I recall it today, I am a bit bemused - where was the impatience? the anger? the feeling sorry for myself with the ice pick stabs above my left eye?

 When we are facing another day full of pain, natural regrets and even anger arise - how could they not?  It's no one's idea of a good day to lie on the bed in the dark trying not to move lest the throbbing worsen.  We have all complained bitterly about such a fate; I have tired myself out with my own whining.  Yet if the pain is happening anyway, and we know that our mental state can affect the pain, why not accept it? 

Perhaps I am learning acceptance - if yesterday is any indication, it seems to be sneaking up on me.  You'd think that wouldn't be a surprise, given the months I've been writing this blog and the number of books I've read and CDs I've listened to, all of which tend to be about relaxation, acceptance of reality, and the gift of the Now.  If I know myself, I'll be swinging back and forth between this new-found equanimity and the more habitual complaining for a while.  But hopefully, the equanimity will win out.

It is hard to give up the struggle against the pain: it seems to indicate an overall resignation to having an illness that causes chronic pain.  But yesterday's quiet and blessedly peaceful moment-to-moment calm has not made me any less determined to ask my neurologist - I have an appointment on Tuesday - whether I can try again the class of medications that often prevent migraines.  I am optimistic that the side effects may be easier to handle now that I am not working.  And I have an article about surgery, plus notes on the pain-filled 4-month regimen that was supposed to reduce the migraines and didn't.  Accepting yesterday's pain has not diluted one bit my energy for and interest in finding relief.

Think of it as the grace of God, or what Jesus said about anxiety and the sparrows; what the Buddhists call equanimity; what Byron Katie calls loving what is; what Eckhart Tolle calls the power of Now.  In how many ways have I been receiving this message for most of my life?  It finally seems to be sinking in, and there is no giving up about it. 

No, it doesn't feel like giving up.  It feels more like courage.

I would love to hear from you.  Please use the Comment link below, or email me at carold.marsh@gmail.com


  1. Carol - I love how you're pursuing that middle path -- not giving up in resignation but, at the same time, accepting where you are, all the while continuing to see if you can find some treatment for the pain. Sometimes equanimity can feel like walking a tightrope -- it's so easy to fall into indifference, resignation, or that "who cares?" mentality. But that just makes us more miserable -- at least it does me. I hope your appointment with the doctor proves to be fruitful.

  2. I very much like this post.
    I believe that fighting, killing, whether it be people or pain, is not the answer. My struggles are always with myself and when I stop struggling and wave the white flag there is at the worst "truce" and at the best "peace".
    Ultimately, it is always a spiritual crisis or a spiritual journey.
    Blessings and I sincerely hope you find relief.

  3. Toni - thanks for the reminder about the "middle path." Going to either of the polarities - fighting or resignation - does make me more miserable. I love the visual image of the path that balances between these opposites without having to veer either way.

    Judith - Yup, it's about the spiritual life, and I, with you, would rather make it a journey rather than a crisis: or, really, turn the spiritual crisis into the spiritual journey.

    Thank you both for your comments.