Ripples in the pond
A good friend is suffering with foot pain. She showed me her x-ray from the hospital and there is moderate arthritis there. She tells me that there is a lot of pain too. Every day her foot hurts and now she is waking up with low back pain. This is an active energetic woman who is hard to stop. She works the family business all day, has a beautiful immaculate house, makes meals for her husband and takes care of their pet, a large 120 pound dog which she walks twice a day. Even while we spoke on the phone, she was doing two or three other things, multitasking. Her question to me was: Why do I have all this pain? and How do I make it stop?

We all know that things just happen – that concept has its own bumper sticker. But the on-going pain that doesn’t go away or keeps getting worse is a common problem.

‘Why is it here and how can I make it go away’ is a common refrain, but people really don’t mean that. What they are really asking is: “Why it is here and how can I make it go away without changing my lifestyle or inconveniencing me in any way.” What is missing here is the understanding of the cause and effect relationship between what you do and how you feel.

Let’s say you started your car and an idiot light goes on. Something is wrong with your car. A common tendency is to drive the car anyway hoping that the light will turn off. We gamble that the problem is a temporary glitch that won’t cause you to break your daily pattern of thought and activity.

Let’s face it, our daily routines are what rule us, any break from the performance or completion of our list of our To Do’s is mighty uncomfortable. We are willing to tolerate significant pain in our physical bodies as well as our emotional states if only we can get the list done.

And then something mysterious happens; the list is no longer external, it becomes us. We identify with the list and there is no separation from it and ourselves. Pain is a hindrance to our chores. We do not identify that the pain is a signal that what we are doing is hurting us and needs to change. Now if I was to touch a hot stove, I’d learn the immediate lesson that hot stoves cause pain and I won’t do that again. But what if the cause of my pain is not so sudden and obvious? What if wearing attractive shoes places the foot in a position that causes damage, but not right now? The feel-good feeling of wearing fashionable shoes is immediate and the permanent degeneration and subsequent pain is remote. Until pain comes and is unrelenting. So the problem is twofold: habits that cause pain are now natural parts of us and changing them is like changing a part of ourselves. Second, we notice the pain but have lost contact with the activity as the cause of pain. We continue to do what is hurting us and can’t correlate the pain with the activity. It seems hard to realize but most of our pain is self-inflicted.

Wouldn’t it be lovely if putting on fashionable but harmful shoes (or whatever activity harms us) would give immediate pain signals as the hot stove did to my fingers? Lesson learned. I won’t do that again!

But life is not so simple and straight forward. The vitality in your body is the most powerful force on the planet. Our vitality keeps attempting to reduce inflammation and pain even though our voluntary activity is the cause of it. So behaviors that are not in our best interests and will eventually lead to degeneration of the quality of our life are not so obvious, especially if they give immediate but temporary benefit.

The solution is to pay attention and watch how what we do makes us feel, not just immediately but in the hours and days later. We are programmed to live in the now with little attention expended on possible consequences at a potential future date. That strategy would make a life much easier to live.

We create our experience. Pain just doesn’t wait in the bushes to jump out and attack. (Unless you live in Lion country or a place where predators roam freely.) I suggest that considering consequences, even potential ones, are a valuable resource to keep us out of pain and on course to a vital life filled with positive outcomes that we create.