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The Life-Changing Lessons I Learned From Chronic Pain

I don't like asking for help. Who does? It brings out all those uncomfortable feelings of vulnerability, loss of independence, of being a burden. It requires a level of honesty and trust I have not mastered before. Haven't yet, truth to be told. But I'm getting there, because pain makes sure I get to practice.
08/05/2015 07:10pm ET | Updated December 6, 2017
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ASKING FOR HELP IS OPENING THE DOOR FOR LOVE

I don't like asking for help. Who does? It brings out all those uncomfortable feelings of vulnerability, loss of independence, of being a burden. It requires a level of honesty and trust I have not mastered before. Haven't yet, truth to be told. But I'm getting there, because pain makes sure I get to practice.

It's humbling. I'm not proud like before. I can't keep up appearances like before. I can't do it perfectly -- sometimes I can't do it at all. Not without help, anyway.

But you know what? Turns out that the door I need to open in order for others to help me, is the same door that love comes through. Being forced to ask for help has left me flooded at times, lost and bewildered, knee-deep in a love I never dared believe was there before. But now I know. When someone helps me clean the house, tend the kids, or walk the dogs, they're saying (with our without words)

You can rely on us. We're willing to go through some trouble for you. You're not alone.

Who knew?

THE MORE YOU LET GO OF, THE MORE POWERFUL YOUR WORK BECOMES

Pain and illness strips you of a lot of things. Things you thought you had to do. Things you liked to do. Things you dreamed of doing in the future that you won't be able to now.

It takes away so much, but if you're willing to let go it leaves you with something invaluable:

Focus.

I can keep on working only because I choose to focus what energy I have on the things most important to me (family, home, health, work). It means a lot of other things don't get done.

Some days that's perfectly OK. It's freedom. Letting go and letting go, beyond what I thought I was capable of. Some days it breaks my heart. All those impulses, all those beautiful ideas just falling to the ground.

Very few of them make it, these days. But the ones that do, I devote myself to in a way I could not before, when I was always busy trying to do everything at once.

For me as a creative person, the fact that there are a lot of things I can't do is not a problem. Creativity thrives in limited spaces. When you can't reach for the obvious solution you'll have to dig deeper to find a way, and the results of your labour will be more original for it.

RADICAL SELF-CARE IS THE BIRTHPLACE OF CREATIVE POWER

This is my edge right now. And I'm not talking about self care as a good health decision, or even as kindness. But self care as necessity. As an integral and inseparable part of the creative life.

This is where it's decided. I'm just beginning to understand the extent to which we miss out on our power and potential because we don't know how to take care of ourselves properly. Half the time, we don't even know what we need, and certainly not how to give it to ourselves. Lifetimes of conditioning tell us that duty comes first. So we oblige. We struggle and we strive.

Even if we dare the leap and go for a creative life, most of us still rely on willpower to get things done. We still strive and push; the only difference is that the goals we strive for are closer to our hearts.

We miss out on so much of the magic that way. I wrote about the magic of going slow before, and that's part of it.

Knowing when and how to go slow is one aspect of taking radical care of ourselves. Sleeping is another. Filling up on inspiration. Enjoying our bodies, our sensual experiences, food, light, warmth, moonlight, poetry, sound, space. Understanding energy. Making friends with time and silence. Approaching work in the spirit of giving and receiving, rather than achieving.

Opening that door fully invites a kind of creative energy into your system that is unlike anything you've known before.

We usually give ourselves what we need only if there's time, after the "real" work is done. And we do it as a remedy, to avoid stress, burnout and disease. Which is a good start. But it's like using a race car as storage space. That's a lot of unused horsepower.

Self care is not optional. It's mandatory, and it has the potential to be truly revolutionary.

MY BODY, MY POWER

I have a history of sexual abuse in my childhood, and like many others with that kind of background, I learned early on to stay safely in my head and live my life from there. Far from the messiness and the vulnerability of the body.

Actually, you don't need that kind of history to end up stuck in your head. I'd say most of us westerners are. It's a collective disease.

It works to a certain extent. It works beautifully at university, for instance. In fact, it's rewarded there. In many workplaces too.

But then there are those other things you can't do while stuck in your head. Like love. Sex. Creativity. Meditation. Deep joy.

Sex is obvious. Of course you're not going to have great sex if you're not present to feel your body. Creativity is maybe less obvious. For a long time, I approached writing as an intellectual activity. I figured being smart and educated would take me as far as I needed (dared) to go.

It didn't. It barely got me started.

Intellectual power is one aspect of creativity, but only one. Emotional, spiritual and physical power are the other pieces of the puzzle. Remove one and you're left with an incomplete picture. Whatever we produce from there will always lack power.

I've resisted stepping into my physical power for so long. But the truth is:
There's no way to be truly present in your life, your love, your work if you're not present in your body. There's no way to access your full creative potential if you're not present in your body.

This is where it happens. Our bodies are the places where spiritual, intellectual and emotional powers meet and transform into expression, into results, into art. Our bodies are needed for this work. Our hands and our heart must be available for this transformation to happen.

I know this. But I still struggle with it.

Because here's what it means: Feeling all of it. The joy, the excitement and the power, yes, but also the fear, the vulnerability and the helplessness. It means accepting and working with what's there, scar tissue, flaws and all.

So I resist. But pain brings me back, over and over again. It's a no bullshit teacher.

When I'm disconnected, my body hurts more. When I ignore the signals from my body, it hurts more and more and more, until I can't cope.

When I slow down and sink into my heart, my belly, my pelvis, my feet - from where I can listen and respond - the pain softens and becomes bearable.

I soften. My mind softens. I let go, and in that state of surrender, I somehow become more powerful. My work becomes more powerful. It's a paradox I'm learning to embrace

Long-term physical pain is like no challenge I've met before. It's life grabbing me by the neck, shaking me until my bones rattle. Will you listen? It says. Will you fucking listen?

I still fight it. Then I yield, and bow. And listen.

Maybe such a stubborn student needed such a fierce teacher.