Re-Design my Pain


Todd Sampson reminded me on ABC TV last night that I can Re-design my Brain when it comes to my chronic pain. The three principles that I should meditate on for ten minutes a day are:

 

  1. This pain will pass,
  2. The pain can’t hurt me, and
  3. This pain won’t stop my body doing all (or most) of what I want.

 

The first principle is for those times when the pain flares up and is an invitation to live in the present. It is a reminder that in the future, I won’t have this pain. The future may be after I have slept tonight. The future may be after I have pulled the emergency cord and taken a pain holiday by consuming what my GP calls any “uh-zepam” drug. The future may be the next general anaesthetic I will some day have. The future may be after my death. It doesn’t matter how rare the future or how far out into the future, just the fact that there is a future where the pain changes for the better.

 

This pain will pass. Hang on to that.

 

This pain can’t hurt me. If I break my arm and then lift a heavy suitcase, that will hurt me. But my constant companions, the pains in my back and feet are not the result of new tissue damage or broken bones. I don’t have to limp because of my sciatic legs. The pain is just there, and movement will not make anything worse. In fact, movement may make things better.

 

Better to move than seize up. This pain can’t hurt me.

 

My body, considering all the things that are wrong with it, works very well. I can feel the wind on my face and see the waves down at the beach. I can hear the magpies sing their joyful carols. I can embrace those I love, and set my grandchildren on my knee and take them riding in my wheelchair. I walk three kilometres five mornings a week. I enjoy three meals a day. I can sit and type and engage my brain and fingers setting devious crosswords and writing stories.

 

Yes, I do have to work around the limitations of mobility that pain imposes on me. But my body can do most of the things I want to do.

 

Whenever I begin to be distressed by my pain, I can remind myself of these three statements of fact:

  1. This pain will pass,
  2. The pain can’t hurt me, and
  3. This pain won’t stop my body doing what I want.

These devious affirmations will change my brain’s perception of pain, and I will carry on.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Suffering unto death?


The comment was only half in jest, and it caught me by surprise. “You sound disappointed that you weren’t diagnosed with bone cancer or blood cancer.” My answer was the sanctioned one: “I am disappointed that they haven’t found something that they can treat. I don’t really care what its name is.”

The truth is, there is a little part of me that felt disappointed when the scans and blood tests returned negative. Of course, that’s partly explained not as a death wish, but as frustration with my symptoms, which have been powerful enough on some days for me to think that death would be easier to bear than the pain.

But my friend made me wonder. During those days of waiting for results I did rehearse my reactions to the possible diagnosis of a fatal illness. The prospect that I would not have more years with Rae filled me with pain. The thought that, though I might live to see Clare’s wedding, I might not see the children she will have with James and watch them as babies, toddlers, children, adolescents and growing to adulthood, seared my heart. The idea that I would not be around long enough to see Brendan settled and happy troubled me deeply.

No, I am not disappointed. I want the chance of more life. But I hope I am also strong enough to face my mortality, and to wonder what that now means to me as a Christian. These last weeks have reaffirmed for me the stark fact that I will die, if not soon, then in the coming decade or two. And whatever I believe, I cannot escape the reality of nature: death is the end. We live, we die. Anything that might be beyond our life span would be a sheer miraculous gift of the Most High. Resurrection is by definition surprise.

It is many years since I believed (if ever I really did) in my continuing existence after death as an individual. I hope I have not given false comfort to people over the years that they will somehow be reunited beyond the ashes or the grave with their loved ones in some happy valley. This false but widespread belief is both arrogant and petty: Arrogant to believe that human beings are so important in the scheme of the Cosmos, and petty to think so poorly of God’s imagination.

By definition, “eternal” cannot be after anything. The word itself tells us that the grace of God operates not after our death, but beyond our life – out of time. As far as we can know now, eternal life is about the intensity with which we live in this too short space between birth and death. Eternal life is about our gratitude now. Eternal life is about intentionally taking time to be simply in the Presence of all that is.

Looking forward to some second-rate paradise after death will in fact take away from the joy and brilliance of living in the now.

Instead, we should be journeying within to discover the broad and marvel-filled country of our souls. Instead of yearning for a union with those whom we love in the past, we could be yearning for a greater quality of loving those we are given to love now.

I am not afraid of the darkness to come. The problem is that sometimes I am afraid of the brightness of the light here and now.

Planetary nebula NGC 2818