When I was on my honeymoon I nearly ruined the whole thing because of my pain. I was absolutely miserable. My mind was plagued with questions about it. What was going on? What kind of crap was this that after coping with my injury I was now getting all this pain? I was keeping a journal about my pain. My wife could see by my face it was never far from my mind. It really sucked actually. Its a good thing the Internet was sparse then as I would have never left the keyboard. The Maui sun, sand and sea could only do so much to wash away the experience.
I was fueling it all with the only thing we can really control in the world, attention. Attention is like sunshine, like love. What you direct it toward thrives, what you deprive it of withers. I was showering my pain and the negative emotions about it with the equivalent of rainforest conditions: sun, warmth, water and nutrients and it grew like tropical vines, banana trees and orchids in all the attention. It was a greenhouse of pain fertility.
Did I need to go through that? Probably. Maybe that's just part of moving on. Do I wish it was shorter? Yes. Thankfully it didn't ruin my marriage.
When I have pain now, it's a bit like, "Hey, remember me?"
"Yes I remember you, relax. Let's not get into a big battle like we did in Maui OK?"
"Alright, just so long as you give me a little love."
"OK. I don't know about love, but I'll give you a little attention."
It's a kind of truce. I give it as little attention as possible while directing attention elsewhere to things I want to thrive. Through this, I've managed to change the story about my pain and I think that must be pretty important somehow.
There are questions that I can't clearly answer:
- Is my pain actually less now or am I just less bothered by it?
- If it is less, (it seems like it is), is it because I don't pay as much attention to it, or did something just get better and heal?
- If I'm less bothered by it, how did that happen exactly? Did I just choose that? Did I come to understand it better? Did I feel more supported and understood by others?
I suspect the answer is "all of the above."
Attention on pain is only one of many layers to the experience. Your attention is one of the most powerful resources you own that is completely within your control. Pain demands our attention because doing so usually means a survival advantage. We take care of our painful wounds if we pay attention to them. But once chronic, does our survival depend on paying attention to it? What if there isn't a wound to take care of anymore?
Experiment with paying less attention to pain and your story about it than you have been. It probably won't go away, but it might wilt a bit like a plant suddenly deprived of water and warmth. Maybe you'll just be less bothered by it while diverting attention elsewhere.
Funnily enough, one night while editing this post my pain was jacked up — perhaps it was celebrating being written about again. I asked it not to let it go to it's head. :)
What are your experiences with attention and pain?