For years it never felt safe to be in my body. It seemed alien, a container that was much too small. I felt trapped. I wanted out. Overwhelmed by too many feelings, I hovered numb just a few inches above my skin, disconnected. This whole earth experience felt so alien, that as a little girl I used to sit on my garage roof, look at the stars, and hope a spaceship would come take me away to a place I really belonged.
Now, I realize that this body we’ve been given for such a short time is the divine vehicle for our healing. I believe that parents must educate their children about the adjustment it takes to be in the body—to go from a spirit form that is absolutely huge to a time and space–limited physical self.
Being so enclosed in a physical form can be a cause for panic on a primal level. Our adjustment to the body is a spiritual issue that can lead to better psychological adjustment while we’re here on earth. I teach all my patients this.
I’d like you to begin that adjustment too, and be in your body as much as possible. Then you can stay healthy or better deal with illness or pain if either comes.
You can’t heal your body unless you’re in it. Sounds reasonable, right? Then how come the instant most of us get sick we check out, the sooner the better? We feel pain or discomfort, we get scared, we withdraw. We’re out of our bodies so fast, the last thing on our minds is to rally every iota of awareness and energy to the part of us that most needs attention.
You might ask, How would this help? Let me explain.
- Intuitive truth 1: The more love and consciousness you bring to your body when it is ill, the better chance you’ll have of mending it.
- Intuitive truth 2: If you resist discomfort, it will persist. If you soften around it, it will lessen.
Let’s get specific.
You have what you’re going to discover is appendicitis. First signs? You’re in agony, curled in the fetal position on your bed. Your body is sending out a frantic SOS. Something’s really wrong. You have no choice but to listen. You head for the emergency room. You need surgery. No way out. Next thing you know, you wake up in recovery, sans appendix. You made it. Your acute pain obviously had a purpose. It got you, fast, to the hospital.
Some pain is short-lived. You have it. It’s treated. It’s gone. Even with pain of this kind, however, there’s no question that informed attention is an asset. From the onset of a health crisis, focusing your intuition can get you past all-too-human resistances. For instance, people frequently die of heart attacks, failing to heed the warning of their angina.
As they say, Denial is not just a river in Egypt. Intuition combats denial. By tuning in to pain, you’ll get a more incisive take on how to deal with it. But, in general, here is a strategy that never fails: Loving-kindness. Conscious softening. Releasing resistance and fear. Not forsaking the body. This is where you begin.
What if pain becomes chronic?
My patient Meg, a corporate attorney used to being in charge-a control freak, really-was diagnosed with a bulging lumbar disc. Compressing the sciatic nerve, this disc caused excruciating pain in her lower back and down her leg. Pain became Meg’s enemy.
Drawing on techniques honed in years of legal warfare, she went on a crusade to eradicate it: anti-inflammatory drugs, ice packs, acupuncture, physical therapy, and gradual exercise. She did everything her doctor told her. Still the pain was there. The more she dreaded it, the worse it got.
One day she hobbled into my office, cane in one hand, and cell phone in the other. An impossible juggling act, heart rending to see. On the verge of tears, she said, “I can’t take it anymore. I hate this pain. I just want to get rid of it.” Of course she did. Any of us would. But Meg was working against herself.
I had to teach Meg something contrary to her style of being in the world. She just wasn’t going to be able to conquer her pain. She’d have to harmonize with it. For a bold spirit like Meg, this would be no easy task. Nor was this issue hers alone.
So often in medicine we have it backwards. We attempt to repair the body without consulting it. Pain has its own spirit, language, intelligence, and rhythm. Pain is absolutely alive. It will speak to you, not in the usual sense but on an intuitive level.
First, open up communication. Odd as it may seem, ask your pain-or any illness for help. Healing is collaboration, an opportunity to learn from a sometimes demanding but most enlightened master. Approach your pain with deep respect. If you do, it will respond, point the way toward getting well.
These practices gave Meg the courage to mend past wounds and change present behaviors. It allowed compassion into many areas of her life. She never expected that part of her healing would be to allow other people to support her: letting a friend drive to the movies; asking a stranger to carry her bags when traveling.
Meg’s success wasn’t only that her back pain subsided. Much about her started to melt: her rigidity, her tendency to beat herself up whenever she’d make a mistake, her impulse to give to others rather than take time to savor or receive.
She has become more mindful of beauty. The glistening sunlit boughs of magenta bougainvillea arcing over her front porch don’t go unnoticed anymore.
Of course, Meg didn’t achieve this overnight, but an extraordinary new pattern had begun. Self compassion is the most enduring antidote to pain or illness I know, a kind of oxygen that can revitalize. Moving toward it is a lifelong path.
Your body also gives you leads about recovering from pain or illness through its internal pictures. If you get sick you may have to undergo certain tests-X rays, ultrasound, CT scans, MRIS, or endoscopy – some more grueling than others but all with their intuitive upside.
I’d like you to begin to consider these tests a training ground where you can learn to zero in intuitively. I can’t overemphasize the importance of having a distinct mental image of the part of you that needs to be healed. These tests offer you that. Their visuals are structural reference points that further ground you in your body.
Intuitive healing is always body-interactive. Why not put your medical procedures to intuitive good? Why deny yourself such an asset? When traveling in a foreign country, wouldn’t you prefer to have a guidebook? I know tests can be scary, especially if something is wrong. Even so, don’t miss the magic of seeing into your body, a connector between you and the substance of which you are made.
The martial arts concept of mu-shin, or “no mind,” means no separation between mind and body. Power flows from this unity. Our physical self, our emotions, a healthy body or an organ with disease-our capacity to heal strengthens as we become one with it all.
Meeting The Master:
A Meditation For Dealing With Pain and Illness
- Relax into the discomfort. Don’t try to change it or rid yourself of it. Simply let the pain be. Gently breathe through any tightening, fear, resistance. Loosen your grip. Get to know the geography of your pain. Map it out. Become familiar with it.
- Intuitively tune in to the discomfort. Does it have color? Texture? Emotion? Is it hot? Cold? Does it move or stay in one place? Do you notice images? Sounds? Scents? Memories? Ask the discomfort: What can I learn from you? How can I case my pain?
- Focus lightly on the discomfort. Feel it completely. As you inhale, breathe all your pain in. Visualize it as a cloud of dark smoke. Let it flow throughout your body, right to the core of your compassion. Now picture every last bit of the black smoke dissolving, purified by love. As you exhale, imagine this love as clear white light. Send it back to your area of discomfort. Breathe in pain. Breathe out compassion. Breathe in pain. Fill the pain with the healing breath of compassion.
Questions and Answers with Dr. Orloff
Question: When I read what you wrote about being drained by the energy of others, I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry. I have suffered incredible breast pain, when a fellow educator across the hall was going through a problem with cysts in her breasts which eventually had to be removed.
I have woken in the middle of the night in horrific despair only to discover the next day that a young man had committed suicide during the night in the park next to our house. I have become depressed, sick, achey for no apparent reason. I have often wondered if I was just losing my mind or if I was going to stay some pitiful hypochondriac.
I used to be a very social person, but not much anymore. I’ve wondered if what I was feeling was really my own, but it just sounded so far-fetched to believe otherwise. I’ve been a school counselor for over 20 years and have often felt that I was in the middle of a maelstrom.
Now I’m walking around asking myself, “Is this really my illness? Is this really my sadness?” I am so excited about learning more. I’d really like to know how to distinguish what illnesses are mine or others’. How can I learn more about this?
Answer: Intuitive empathy is the ability some of us have to pick up the energy of others and take it on ourselves. We literally become energy sponges and suffer because the angst of the world all comes to us.
Intuitive empaths are labeled “hypochondriacs” by doctors and often sent to a psychiatrist. But what is really happening is that we don’t know how to process the negative energy around us so it doesn’t get stuck in our own bodies.
The secret is to learn techniques such as visualizing white light around your body for protection, or breathing deeply as you visualize roots planted in the ground. Also learning to set boundaries with energy vampires is essential so they don’t sap you dry.
Please refer to the Chapter on Centering and Protection in my book Guide to Intuitive Healing to learn the techniques and practice them. Then the intuitive empathy can become an asset, leaving you more open to compassion and all the positive energy out there.