Illustration by Molly Askey-Goldsbury
Listening to Pain
By Bryn Bamber
I get a small sick feeling inside but I don’t want to hurt his feelings, so I say yes. Yes, come over even though I’m tired. Yes, don’t worry about bringing my keys back. Yes.
I say yes to him and betray what’s right for me.
Even now, I think: should I really write this? What if he reads it and recognizes the example? Will he be hurt? Maybe I should choose another topic. Something softer. Something safe and sweet because that is who I am: a sweet, loving, caring, compassionate woman.
I am not angry. I am sweet. I will be sweet and no one will get hurt.
And I wish it was true but what I’m realizing is that by trying to protect him, I have been hurting me. For years I have not listened to that small sick feeling. I have been putting others first at all costs.
In the Yoga of Healing, Swami Radha writes, “Pain has to be recognized as a great teacher.” And I realize the small sick feeling is my pain, that the small sick feeling is my teacher. My body is trying to tell me something and I haven’t listened.
I can barely hold back my tears as I wait for the others to speak. When it’s my turn, I start crying and struggle to get the words out. When I was 8 years old two of my cousins died as babies. I was young. I didn’t know how to grieve them. I was struck by the loss.
It had been such a joyful exciting time. My parents had told me that I was going to have a new baby cousin. It was going to be a girl and I couldn’t wait to hold her small sweet body.
But then 10 days after her birth, we got a phone call. She was gone.
I wish that it was a dream, but I don’t wake up from it. I learn to harden my heart so I will never feel hurt like that.
Then it happens again. A baby girl. Five days old. Gone.
This time I don’t try wishing it was a dream because I know that it won’t work. I just try harder to dull my love. I try harder to control. I know I can’t take getting hurt like that again so I vow to do whatever it takes to keep myself safe.
And now, 21 years later, I am crying. I am finally grieving the loss of the girls and I am also grieving the part of me that was lost with them.
It’s the middle of a workshop with two teachers from the Ashram. We are looking at transitions – times of loss or change from our past – to learn about how we handled them, about our patterns and about what we want to change.
I realize that I’ve had back pain for as long as I can remember. I’ve gone to many health care professionals over the years to resolve it. I’ve seen doctors, physiotherapists, massage therapists, chiropractors, a body talk therapist. I have an athletic therapist I see when it gets really bad, but the pain never really goes away for good.
And it’s like the small sick feeling. I feel the pain but ignore it. When the pain gets too bad, I manage it. But I haven’t stopped, listened and asked, “What is this pain trying to teach me?”
So at the workshop I do it. I write in my journal, “What can I learn from my pain? What are you here to teach me?” And the answers come fast and furious. I scribble them down, making note. After the workshop, I keep asking. Sometimes the answers come quick but other times are slow and quiet, trickling out one by one.
I start to see that in relationships, I have often taken care of my partner at the expense of my needs and then expect him to do the same. This seems like a pretty fair deal, except for that my partner is not a mind reader. He can’t know exactly what I need. Inevitably he gets it wrong and I resent him.
I realize the coping mechanisms I developed during that difficult period when I was 8 years old are still impacting me. A part of me is constantly trying to control so that I won’t get hurt. I harden my heart. I manage my life. I don’t allow myself to let go. I don’t allow myself to live or love fully.
And I want to change all of this. I want to stop trying to control everything in order to protect my heart. I want to let go and let myself love someone without trying to figure it out, manage or control it.
And most of all, I want to be me. All of me – with my sweetness and my anger and my sadness rolled together. I want to let it all out. I want to be more honest than I’ve been in years. I want to be me.
Listening to my pain feels like the beginning of a journey. It feels like turning left at the crossroads after years of turning right.
I know these changes I want to make won’t be easy. But I also know the discomfort of trying will lead to a life more real and more whole than the life I had before.
Here I am: at another crossroads, deciding to turn towards the life I want.
About Bryn Bamber
Bryn Bamber is an educator, writer and Yasodhara Yoga teacher who is obsessed with bridging the gap between dissatisfaction and the desire to live a life filled with meaning. Her writing has been published in Scratch Magazine and at brynbamber.com.
Read her other articles in Finding Yoga.
“I realize the coping mechanisms I developed during that difficult period when I was 8 years old are still impacting me. A part of me is constantly trying to control so that I won’t get hurt. I harden my heart. I manage my life. I don’t allow myself to let go. I don’t allow myself to live or love fully. And I want to change all of this.”
6 Responses to “Listening to Pain”
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Thanks for letting it all out, and being such an inspiration. Thanks for being so fully ‘you.’ Bryn.
Thanks Terry. Lots of Light to you too!
It takes courage to open up like this, thank you Bryn for this post
Thanks Ma. Love you.
Thank you Bryn. Your article felt like a fresh breeze, which widely opened the door to a deeper understanding of listening to pain. I love the way you described it as the beginning of a journey at the crossroads, and finally taking the opposite direction. I’m ready too …..
Thanks Irena. All the best with your crossroads.