• Barnaby King

Being Present With the Puzzle of Pain

Despite the devastating effects of Covid over the last year, the vast majority of chronic illness, both mental and physical, is still due to environmental and lifestyle factors rather than transmittable disease.

We live in an unforgiving world that puts physical and mental pressures on our bodies that they were never designed for.

One example of this is the pressure to always be right, to have the answer, to correct errors and abnormalities. It feels (increasingly) not okay to not know, to explore open questions, or to feel confused.

We know instinctively that this pressure is not healthy for our minds or bodies, that it causes stress, anxiety, anger, and a host of physical symptoms too (including chronic pain). We know instinctively that, in order to learn and thrive, the body and the mind need the freedom to explore and play without the pressure to come up with answers, solutions and certainties.

While we might be aware of this, few people are consciously doing anything about it. What are you doing? Do you give yourself that space? How can we even do that in today’s frenetic and success-driven culture?

My answer to that is always the same: it begins with movement: movement that engages the whole body, the mind, and the nervous system.

A simple, but rarely practiced, approach to movement can give us back that wellbeing in mind and body that has so many positive benefits: more ease and pleasure in everyday life; relief of stress and anxiety; deeper sleep and relaxation; more energy and vitality for doing what we love and being with those we love.

In this post I’d like to share some simple ways that we can access these benefits by moving with a particular kind of intention and attention.

Firstly, we need to understand that we are not trying to correct the body but rather teach the body how to self-correct.

The idea of correction implies that something is wrong. It implies judgment, and judgment is the enemy of true awareness. When we feel that there is something wrong with how we are standing or moving or lying or just something wrong with our body, we put layers of judgment on top of what we are doing, and that judgment clouds our awareness of what we were doing before. Likewise, whatever adjustment or reaction we have in response to that awareness will be clouded by self-judgment and therefore, in the end, unhelpful.

So, it’s vitally important not to think in terms of changing or correcting.

Secondly, we must develop our ability to be present with what is, observing, noticing it, and then going through the motions that allow our body to make the appropriate adjustment. So it’s trusting in the natural systems inside your body to do that self-regulation that it is designed to do; trusting that it will choose the best options when we give it the opportunity.

There’s an element of letting go of control in this, but there’s also an element of gaining control, because you are no longer doing things, correcting, judging, without awareness. Awareness is really the entryway into greater control.

Part of giving up control is becoming comfortable with not knowing the answer, letting go of the desire to know and to understand exactly. It is enough to stay with the question. The reality is there is so much going on, you are never going to be able to track everything. But what you do have the ability to do is pay attention. You can always be present with yourself with a question.

Getting comfortable with not knowing is one of the most valuable gifts that you can give to yourself. It’s one of the most nourishing, self-healing gifts, because you release yourself of the pressure of needing to be right. And in that way you give yourself the opportunity to be present with the question. And what is life but a series of questions and discoveries?

When we do movements with a particular intention, this is what we are teaching ourselves to do.

The movement lessons in MOVERS' ACADEMY are a great example. In any given movement lesson, you can experiment and go as deep as you choose with the proposed movements. You can look at it from a number of different perspectives. It’s about the question and the seeking, not about doing the movement correctly or right. It’s about feeling the act of exploring through movement and being present with the exploration.

Moving with a curious and inquisitive approach (i.e. with a question) is also how you turn on the nervous system's learning switch. And this in turn is the key to moving through pain, since chronic pain lives primarily in the nervous system.

This is a huge shift for most people in pain.

How is it possible to shift one's attitude from desperation to be out of pain at all costs, to active curiosity about the pain? Yet if we are unable to be present with it, to observe it, it is difficult for the body to begin regulating it, as you will not be aware of subtle changes.

A thing that is observed very often begins to change just through the act of observation. So learning to be present and to listen to the pain is sometimes a crucial first step to having that pain begin to shift.

How else can we unravel the mystery, or puzzle, of pain? How else can we truly arrive at an understanding of its causes and therefore begin to address the roots, which, if ignored, will simply continue to cause problems in the body?

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