One of the dangers of suffering is what happens when we distance ourselves from how we feel—when we numb the pain.
And it makes sense that we do this, right? We want to feel better. We need to feel better. We do whatever we can. What we know.
But with persistent suffering—the kind that comes with chronic pain, illness, depression, or trauma—(before we discover—and address—the root causes) comes the danger that in numbing the bad feelings, we also lose the good.
When we limit some, we always limit the others. When we shove down pain, we also lose joy. The best we can do is some lukewarm approximation of the true glory that is possible.
Laura had been sick for five years with a mysterious illness her doctors couldn’t figure out. She suffered greatly.
She came to see me to view her situation from a different perspective. A thorough review of the facts revealed Lyme disease and co-infections, and a carefully crafted treatment plan led to healing.
One of the distressing symptoms Laura told me about was the inability to feel anything—her body felt “numb.”
Especially upsetting was that she couldn’t feel her chest. She recalled how one day, well into her healing and feeling better, she went for a walk. While looking at the trees and taking in the beauty of nature all around her, she felt a welling up of sensation in her chest. She didn’t know what to call it, but it made her feel alive and whole. But it was fleeting and she desperately wanted it back.
As we spoke, it became clear that Laura had lost the ability to feel as a way to cope with the tremendous suffering caused by her experience with chronic illness—a common experience.
She adapted to the trauma of illness—the pain, exhaustion, and hopelessness—by checking out of her body, losing connection with the emotions that reside inside there. Not intentionally, mind you, but as a strategy well known and long used by the stoic, hard working mom and farm partner she was.
The sensations in her chest that day on her walk were wonder, awe, love, and gratitude. Yet, she’d lost the ability to even name what they were.
This analysis made perfect sense to her and she immediately got to work reconnecting with her body.
She practiced feeling her feet against the ground. She learned to breathe deeply, to pause, to take note of all her body sensations, and to honor each and every one of them. She affirmed her desires—to love, to heal, and to stay positive and hopeful.
She studied herself within the situations of her daily life. What sensations came up for her? How did her body feel? What emotions arose?
Fast forward many months… Laura astounded me with her carefully cultivated self-awareness. The feelings that emerged. And the inner strength she’d not known before. This woman had grit. And grace.
What had she learned?
- She is not just a passenger to the experiences of her body, mind, and emotions. She can take charge of this without shutting down.
- She can feel. Those feelings aren’t dangerous as she’d once thought they were. They exist to help and guide her. And they make life more rich, more alive, more complete.
- Close attention to her feelings and the sensations in her body lead to crucial insights—insights that are uniquely hers. That she is wise and powerful beyond what she’d ever imagined.
- She can trust her feelings to guide her toward what she needs. She will never fall victim to the disempowering opinions of “experts,” or her fears about suffering and an uncertain future again.
- Suffering passes. She has a say in it. And she can trust that now.
Amen, Sister, Amen.
From my Archives:
“Suffering is Annoying…” 2018.
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