17 February 2012

"The Power of Now" and Pain Management: Emotions and Resistance

Eighth in a series.

The previous post and this one discuss this quote from chapter two of The Power of Now by Eckhart Tolle:

The [suffering] that you create now is always some form of nonacceptance, some form of unconscious resistance to what is. On the level of thought, resistance is some form of judgment. On the level of emotion, it is some form of negativity. (The Power of Now, page 33)

The purpose of this post is to deal with the negativity that arises from emotions.  Tolle's premise, as re-stated for those of us who live with chronic pain, is that we create our own suffering by not accepting the pain in the present moment, the Now: instead, we resist it unconsciously.  Mental resistance, or thought, is what I posted about in my last post.  Emotional resistance to our pain, the subject of this post, is expressed as negativity.

Before continuing, I want to reiterate two points:

It is only natural -- indeed, it arises out of our instinct for survival -- to resist or flee physical pain, so there is no need to feel guilty or cowardly or inadequate in some way.  It's built into us.

Although Tolle often uses the words "suffering" and "pain" interchangeably, I make a clear distinction between them.  Pain is physical -- it happens to us.  Suffering is mental and emotional -- we do it to ourselves.  Suffering is our inner commentary about the pain.

When my inner commentary is both below the conscious level and negative, I begin to whine.  Or complain.  Or get angry at small things.  Or sit around in a stupor.  Or take no pleasure in the goodness around me.  Or...you get the point.

Whining, complaining, being angry and all the things I do when caught in an unconscious reaction to pain only make the pain worse.  There are physiological, neurological and chemical reasons for this (this link provides good explanations specifically linked to stress, another word, as far as I am concerned, for causing ourselves suffering). 

So my goal becomes this: to learn how I am making the pain worse and stop doing it.  As with so many things in life, it's more complicated (or, at least, we make it more complicated) than it seems.  But here are a few steps to try:

1. Use the link two paragraphs above, or conduct your own search about how physical pain is made worse by our emotional and mental reactions to it.  It really helps me to understand that my stressed-out reactions actually increase muscle pain, make my head pound harder and my stomach more upset.  This understanding leads me to what is called a no-brainer: shall I continue making my pain worse, or shall I stop making my pain worse?

2. Given that it is natural to feel negative about pain, much of our emotional reaction to it springs from our unconscious mind.  That, of course, gives it more power over us.  So the second step is to bring our emotional and mental resistance to consciousness, which means simply to realize when we are doing it.  And that, since many of us live unconsciously most of the time (which is Tolle's main point in most of his writing), is not easy.  I will write about it in some detail in the next post, although your best bet is to get Tolle's book.

3. Now that I understand how I am making my pain worse and am practicing bringing my inner life to consciousness, I move on to the third step: I develop tools, strategies and practices that help me stop making my pain worse.  I have blogged about this many, many times, so rather than re-state, I'll just direct you to the right-hand column where you'll find a section called LABELS.  If you click on breathing, mantras, methods, tools, meditation and relaxation, you will find many ideas for pain management.

A brief summary:
1. Learn how your mental and emotional reactions to physical pain actually cause more physical pain.
2. Bring those reactions to consciousness, so you can take away their power over you.  
3. Develop tools, strategies and practices that help you stop making your pain worse.

Finally, by bringing our suffering to consciousness and accepting the pain without making it worse, we are learning to do what Tolle writes about -- live in the Now.  In the Now is where we find peace, tranquility, and wisdom.  The fact that it is our pain that led us there is just one of the great ironies of life.

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


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