Jun 29, 2008

Beyond Pain

I’ve been in one kind of pain or another for most of the last two years. Most of it is sports related. It started with a condition called "tennis elbow," which lasted for about four months. When I recovered, I then I stretched a tendon on my left shoulder. Once that healed, I hurt both my Achilles tendons, then had plantar fasciitis, and the most recent one, since last October, is a intermittent lower back/hip pain that seems to move from one place to another.

I dropped off my son at school last Friday -- I’m in Buenos Aires and he’s taking Spanish classes for three weeks – and decided to run some errands before I picked him up. I had a lot of walking to do and as I walked, I noticed a burning feeling in my lower back and my left knee.

When this sequence of injuries began two years ago, I was frustrated and often made myself miserable thinking that this should not be happening to me. Until then, I had never experienced any chronic pain. Naive as it may sound, I thought I was invulnerable to it or that if I ever had to deal with pain, that because I'm mentally tough and prepared for it, I would be able to heal right away.

The more I fought the pain mentally, the more conscious I became of it, and before I knew it it was interfering with many of my activities. My days became colored by the level of pain I felt.

Looking back, I can say the experience has been most humbling and helpful and I wouldn't have it any other way. If I’ve learned anything over the last two (painful) years is not to fight pain. My purpose is no longer to heal the body, but rather to withdraw my identification from it.

While I may or may not, according to what I feel at the moment, take material steps to alleviate the pain (this is what the Course calls “magic”), mentally, I’ve learned that I feel less anxiety and less pain when I accept it as it is. After all, I am identified with a body. Discomfort, whether it's physical or psychological, comes with the territory. Watching the pain come and go without resistance or judgment is the key to diminishing our identification with the body.

As I walked through the narrow streets of downtown Buenos Aires, the pain became particularly intense. Both my lower back and my knee throbbed. I walked slowly and with difficulty. I felt crippled. Unable to finish the block I went into a cafe and sat down.

I watched my mind fight the pain and become lost in it and then become conscious again as I let go. Eventually, I settled into peaceful acceptance. I remembered one of my favorite lines in the Workbook Lesson 135:18-1, “What could you not accept, if you knew that everything that happens, all events, past, present and to come are gently planned by One Whose only purpose is your good?”

A non-dualistic God doesn’t really have a Plan. The Course often comforts us with the use of anthropomorphic language to describe god, but it’s meant to be taken metaphorically. It's the way by which the Course is able to reach us at the level we are at. There is, however, an atonement path for each of us. That path is exactly what happens in our lives. Each situation is a lesson in a perfectly crafted curriculum. There are no mistakes. As students, our job is to forgive, not to argue with the lessons as they come.

Sitting at a table now sipping a nice cup of coffee with milk, I watched the pain come and go. If you’ve ever watched yourself think or feel, you know that once you begin to watch yourself do something, you can’t be fully identified with it. You’ve become the conscious observer. As I looked at the pain without judging it (that's what forgiveness is), for a moment, I felt who I am beyond it. It became clear that this aching body was not who I am. I laughed out loud.

In the middle of the worst pain I’ve had in a while, I was suddenly happy. The pain didn’t stop, but it ceased to be the focal point of my awareness. My mind was no longer consumed with it. As I looked around the cafe I had the feeling I was seeing through a veil. The images beyond the veil didn't seem so real and important anymore. The Joy I felt came from the awareness that I wasn't there. I remembered Ken Wapnick's seminar entitled "Finding Joy in a Joyless world," where he quoted this line from the Text CH6-II:6 “How else can you find joy in a joyless place except by realizing that you are not there?"

I walked out of the cafe and continued with my original plan -- the pain there, but my mind completely clear of it. I walked around for a whole hour until I picked up my son.

I came away from the experience with a deeper understanding of what acceptance is. It’s simply allowing the body to feel like it will, but mentally withdrawing my identification with it. It’s knowing that my body can feel as it pleases, but it does not have power to cut me off from my source of joy and peace.

Leafing through “A New Earth: Awakening to your life’s purpose,” by Ekhart Tolle last night, I found this on p. 78 “What is spiritual realization? The belief that you are spirit? No. That’s a thought. A little closer to the truth than the thought that believes your are who your birth certificate says you are, but still a thought. Spiritual realization is to see clearly that what I perceive, experience, think, or feel is ultimately not who I am, that I cannot find myself in all those things that continuously pass away.”

Yesterday, I woke up free of pain. I can’t say the pain won’t come back, but right now, it doesn’t seem as important. The lessons will come and they will stay for as long as I need them. True healing is always of the mind.


  1. Thank you for a great post. In 2005I was one day suddenly bed-ridden for 2 weeks with a lower back pain that completely immobilized me. It was before I knew of the Course, but it allowed me to read some books that I feel led me to be able to accept more readily the Course's path. Like Dr. Wapnick has quoted, "Sweet are the uses of adversity."

  2. I appreciate your comment, Don. "Sweet are the uses of adversity," is one of my favorite seminars by Ken Wapnick. I keep it on my nightstand. It was that lecture that helped begin to see adversity as an opportunity. Thanks!

  3. Another great post, Aileen--thanks.

  4. Hi Aileen, I hope, despite your recent pain, you are having a great time in Buenos Aires! I've got everything (ok, just your Twitter accounts) under control here. :)

    I really enjoyed your post and wanted to tell you I also thought it was a good piece of writing.

    I've had the same two years of pain (we probably attended the same workshop) :) -- I joke, but I remember the day it started was the day after I left a workshop that really touched me. Next day it was a cold, then as that went away I threw out my back, as that healed something else came to takes it place.

    To detach from a body in pain is such a difficult lesson. It's nice to know it's possible, and gratefully we have great models who prove it is possible.

    Glad to hear you are having success with this lesson.

    Enjoy your vacation!

  5. Hi Jamie, Thank you for your comment. It means a lot coming from you :o). And thank you for taking over my twitter accounts! I've had very sporadic Internet access (I'm in the South of France) and it's been a relief not to have to think about updating my Twitter. BTW, I LOVE the twitter quotes you've been selecting for my CourseDaily account. I've been reading them whenever I can. I can see you through them.

    I've been free from chronic pain for about 6 months, but the key for me has been letting go of my attachment to not feeling pain. And yes, I'm sure we were at the same workshop. I'm hoping to make it on July 11th (I get home on the 7th)

    Thanks again and see you soon. XOXO Aileen

  6. Hi Aileen:

    A sick body I am. This is my identity. Sickness is my idol that I worship 24 hours a day.

    Jesus says in the Course to beware the viscious ego. I take this warning very seriously as I am a living example of its visciousness.

    I had cancer in 1986 and underwent surgery and radiation treatments which left me with half a neck and little or no saliva. I had carotoid artery surgery in 2001 and had a stroke during the surgery. After I awoke I discovered I could not swollow and they had to insert a feeding tube in my stomach which stayed there for three years until I finally was able to swallow with the aid of water. I still cannot swallow completely.

    The other night I awoke with leg cramps so severe that I nearly fainted. My ego is viscious and seems to become more vicious as I go deeper into the Course and become to know myself more and more every day.

    I asked Jesus the next day how to deal with my pain, both mental and physical. The first thought that entered my mind was that I have to observe the pain rather than be a part of it. After reading your blog above it is comforting to know that you and others have came to the same point in understanding and dealing with pain. The Course says that we create pain to make the body real. I am looking forward to becoming aware of that moment before I create the pain and then I can choose not to.


  7. Hi Hal,

    Observing the pain is key and a great place to start because it brings us back to the present moment. What may also help is noticing the "need" for things to be different than they are. Often our attachment to not feeling pain (and our attachment to outcomes in general) stands in the way of experiencing freedom.

    Hal, I'd be happy to explore this further with you. Take Care, Aileen

  8. Hi Aileen:

    This morning during my shower I washed my hair with a shampoo that has eucalyptus oil and as I rinsed my hair the shampoo ran across my face and over my eyelids. The cooling sensation spread across my eyelids and I stopped to think how could I be making this happen in this dream? As I experienced this sensation on my eyelids I questioned how it could be that I was experiencing something that I was orchestrating within a dream as the Course says we are doing. How is it that we are impacted by chemicals such as poisons, or acids, or sweet things we have never tasted? The Course says that our past memories make our present and to me this says that we have experienced all the sensations we encounter in this eons long dream and to experience them, even for what seems like the first time, is nothing but a memory brought back to "make the body real". The Course also says we are rerunning the dream over and over again and this is what makes it so real to us. It is only left to us then to be aware we are remembering (dreaming) a pain and if we want to keep it or not. I know this to be true as I experienced a miracle yesterday morning, again in the shower.

    I had gone to bed late the night before and I hadn't sleep that well. As I stood under the shower I was yawning and rubbing my eyes when the thought entered my mind that I was creating this in my mind and that the body has no ability to feel tired. Instantaneously I was wide awake no longer yawning and rubbing my eyes. I was virtually dumbfounded at the experience. I had actually stopped creating through the body the sensation of extreme tiredness.

    Since that event I am more and more looking at things happening to me and what appears outside me as my own doing. The twitch in my eye, the barking of the dog next door, the sound of the wind through the trees. This is truly an amazing thing coming into the realization that I am dreaming the dream and finally starting "know this".


  9. Hi Hal,

    Thank you for sharing your experience! It is amazing how quickly our pains, feelings, needs, discomfort, disappear when we stop identifying with our body, even if for a few moments. That is what a miracle is. The miracle shifts our identification from the figure in the dream who believes it's a body, to the mind of the dreamer who knows the dream is not true.

    It's comforting to know that we are simply reviewing a dream that has already happened. Whenever I perceive myself as suffering, I try to remember that our only choice is who we watch the movie with. If we watch it with the ego we suffer because we identify with a body that has needs and desires that tie us to the dream; if we watch it with the Holy Spirit, He reminds us that we are a mind and that the dream is not true so our perception of suffering disappears.

    Remember though that the goal of the Course is not to stop creating the unpleasant experiences in our lives. They may actually change through our practice, but if our focus is on changing the script, we are inadvertently saying that we are a body and that we can't have peace unless our script changes. This roots us further into the dream. It's helpful to see how much we want our experience to change.



  10. "I try to remember that our only choice is who we watch the movie with."

    I like that! I will give that a try. I think that I may have never thought of watching the dream with the ego or the Holy Spirit and only watching it by myself, kept me alone and left to deal with the world all by myself. Asking the Holy Spirit to be with me to watch the movie gives me a feeling of warmth and safety. Thank you Aileen!