I don’t know about you, but after my car accident I tended to hyper-focus on physical pain in unhelpful ways. I’ve learned over time that it’s important to distinguish between pain that needs my attention i.e. I must attend to, and pain that I must befriend i.e. pain that is uncomfortable but doesn’t need to be addressed or fixed, I just need to let it be.
I’d like to give you an example to illustrate my point. I recently finished walking the Camino de Santiago – more in a future post on the challenges and triumphs of that 713 kilometre journey!
While this example features pain in the feet, you could swap out any brain injury symptom….
Right from the beginning it was very important that I paid attention to what was going on with my feet. It would have been disastrous if I just ignored the onset of hotspots that could fast become blisters.
There was also the pain of the pounding on the pavement and the pounding on the earth. An average of 35,000 steps a day! For 37 days! It’s not surprising that my feet hurt. I also needed to attend to this pain with things like giving my feet a little massage and stretching them and putting on Arnica and dipping them in cold water.
So while it was important for me to tend to this pain to make sure that it didn’t get worse, once the self care was complete it was a matter of letting go of the fight against it. It’s OK just to have sore feet! I had a choice: I could spend my time fretting about the hurt and allow my attention to go over and over again to my feet. Or I could practice letting go of the fight. Practice relaxing into it. Practice saying hello to my foot pain and lean into the knowledge that it would not last forever.
It helped as well to practice noticing joys that were present alongside the pain by moving my attention to the beauty all around, to the joy of connecting with fellow walkers, to the sweetness of the movement of my body getting stronger by the day.
With mindfulness we can notice fear arising when pain shows up. We can hold our pain with tenderness and grace. We can be with our pain with soothing loving kindness and softness rather than tightness in the muscles and the mind which just adds more pain and more fear.
If it feels OK right now might you be willing to take a peek around your own body right at this very moment to see if there’s some pain that either needs to be attended or befriended? Is there some pain that you’re spending overly much time attending to (tight muscles, worried thoughts)? Or is there pain that you’re avoiding that actually needs attending? Can you find the middle way? Somewhere between running towards it and runny away from it?
With the concussion care approach we learn strategies, bit by bit over time, that help us to become more ‘comfortable with the uncomfortable’ as one of my beloved teachers Pema Chodron says. We learn to distinguish between discomfort that needs attending, versus discomfort that needs not be attended, that needs simply to be befriended and held sweetly in soft tenderness.