Mindful Mondays: How to Show Compassion to a Body in Pain.
If you follow me on Instagram, chances are you have noticed that I talk a great deal about how proud I am of my body. I am often times engulfed in pain and zapping nerve pain that makes it hard to carry through with normal physical activities. Every day I am astonished of how my body makes it through the day. But this hasn’t always been my attitude
Going from a very active lifestyle to being excited to rise up on my tippy toes for 1 second is a psychological nightmare. In my head, I am still an independent physically strong girl. I am still the girl who believes she can breeze through a 5K and often times bite off more than I can realistically handle.
And then it hits me. I can’t even make it through a full grocery store trip without triggering the burning aching, CRPS nerve pain throughout my feet and ankles.
My body is not the same as it was five years ago. My reality today is different. —>and it sucks. Big time. I didn’t want to accept this lifestyle. I wanted to fight it. Fight it with harsh words and a mean spirit. I thought I could convince my body to shake it off and ignore the faulty nervous system.
Two years ago, I found myself sitting in a circle with 12 other strangers, taking part of an 8 week Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) course. Each class we took turns sharing personal struggles that we were experiencing as we dove deeper into ourselves while practicing mindfulness. During one fairly intense class on week 4, I felt a wave of sadness and grief wash over me. I wasn’t in a bad relationship. I hadn’t endured any oppression. I wasn’t a victim.
My voice shook and tears streamed down my face as I announced, I was the abuser. I was the bully. I was my biggest enemy. I was causing myself suffering.
I realized that I took every ounce of pain as a validation that I was not good enough. My body was failing me and how dare it! I cursed my affected feet and willed for everything that was happening in my body to be different.
My teacher shared words of wisdom that I will never forget and they hit a chord very deep in my soul. “We struggle the most when we fight with reality.”
She was right. Not only was I struggling because my body had endured a painful disease of the nervous system but I was fighting the reality of being sick. I hated my body, my nerves, my pain and that created more tension, more negative energy, more denial towards the reality and acceptance of my situation.
The narrative that my thoughts took on was nothing less of a bitchy narcissistic bully and that couldn’t have been any further from who I really am towards others in my life.
My mindfulness teacher then urged me to think about something else that blew my mind… “Would you talk to a small child the same way that you talk to yourself?” Of course the answer was no way. Nor would I let anyone speak to another being using the narrative that I was self inflicting on a daily basis.
Sure my disease had created suffering. It had caused pain. It had caused loss. It had caused a whole bunch of crazy messed up things that I may never understand but that didn’t mean that I had to make the situation worse.
Changing my Narrative.
I knew it wouldn’t be easy. I knew that changing habits is one of the most difficult things we do as humans because we naturally fall into routines. Our thoughts are no different, in fact it is harder for us to change our thoughts because many times we aren’t even aware of: 1) what those thoughts consist of and 2) How that narrative effects us as people.
Mindfulness is paying attention, on purpose without judgement.
This wasn’t a change that happened overnight. I continued to struggle with this internal battle against my thoughts for the rest of the 8 week class and continue to struggle today. However, it is getting easier. My mind no longer jumps straight to a judgement when I find my body unable to fulfill a request. I no longer compare myself with those around me. I have worked to shift my thinking to the positive in an attempt to limit suffering.
Those negative and aggressive thoughts caused an immediate physiological response. Just as Mindful Monday last week on Anger, Our body tenses. Our body is on edge. We put ourselves into flight or fright mode when we feed into this narrative.
And for what??
Just because I can’t get through 4 more isles in the grocery store? Or because I couldn’t clean my home in one big swoop? I realized its really not that big of a deal in the grand scheme of things. The only thing that this means, is that in this moment I am tired. In this moment I am in pain. Those are the facts. Those are not life sentences.
So instead of filling my mind with harsh words towards my body I try to reflect inward and quietly thank my body for getting me through the first 3 isles of the store. For my legs and feet to carry me all day when they are tired and when they are in pain.
Not everyone has time for an 8 week course in Mindfulness.
(So lets be realistic here)
Most people aren’t going to take an 8 week MBSR class. Most people don’t even have the patience to meditate every day. And I get that. So here are some realistic steps that you can do to shift an unhelpful narrative you have towards yourself.
- Notice what the narrative is that you have towards yourself. What does that conversation sound like? (Just notice. Don’t judge)
- Is that narrative helpful? or is causing more suffering?
- What are the times/triggers when this conversation turns very aggressive?
- Does it spike when you are in pain?
- Does it increase after a long day
- Would you speak this way to a child? Or to someone that you really loved and respected? (Probably not..now remember no judgement, we are just noticing.)
Now when we start to change our narrative, we may not believe it at first and it might feel very awkward and fake. Many of us have spent decades being unkind to ourselves, so it will take time to adjust. Here are a few things you can do:
- Putting your hand over your heart. Feel your heartbeat.
- “This is a moment of suffering, may I be kind to myself”
- “Poor feet (or other body part that is hurting), I know you are hurting. This flare is really hard today.”
- “You are doing the best that you can, in this moment”
- “I love you, you are good. You are worthy”.
- Feel compassion about how difficult this situation truly is for you.
- Allow yourself the time to rest, peacefully without judgement or running through a to do list in your head
- Take a long, warm bath. Light a candle. Pour some epsom & bubbles. Sounds cliche but these are staples in my weekly self care routine
- Buy those flowers that you see in the grocery store that are 75% off… They may only have a few days left of beauty but that beauty for a few days has the potential to light up your tough days.
- Read through Minding the Pain (a previous Mindful Monday)
- What did your body or mind do well today? What are you proud of?
By showing ourselves compassion in those very difficult moments, we are essentially giving our bodies the space to heal. We are not imposing more drama and more suffering. We are simply trying to work with our bodies to move through this moment with grace & kindness.
How do you show yourself compassion?