A few years ago, I had a couple weeks of intense back pain. No matter what I did, it wouldn’t go away. I convinced myself that it was a sign of something terrible, a cancer beneath my sacrum. It was terrifying. The fear lasted for a week and a half, until I read something in The Power of Now about accepting your nonacceptance. That was a new idea for me, to stop trying to accept the pain and just accept that I was resisting it.
I laid on the couch and closed my eyes, and brought my attention to the pain in my back. But my fear of the pain kept pulling me away. So rather than resisting the pulling away, I just watched it. It was a feeling in my body, a feeling that I had to run from this pain. As I kept bringing my attention over and over again to the pain, watching this compulsive turning away from it, an image appeared to me like the one above: a naked man, hunched over, screaming, desperately looking for a way out, terrified of some awful menacing thing behind him (the pain). In the image, the man is so focused on escaping whatever is behind him that he’s not even sure what it is. He imagines that it’s a monster or a demon, some malevolent force. It’s definitely something he should run from. And so he scrabbles at the rocks in front of him, digging, trying to find an escape.
That was exactly how it felt, my fear of this pain. That was exactly how I felt.
As I kept gently bringing my attention back to the pain, though, I began to see it for what it actually was: just some sensations in my back. And when I saw that, my desire to run from the pain lifted, and I felt a deep calm, right within the pain. Where there had been fear, there was love.
That was an important moment, to realize that the pain itself wasn’t scary at all. It was the running from it that had made it seem menacing. But, of course, my realization didn’t last. Every new pain I have felt has been the same thing, the same image. It feels archetypal to me: a scary thing coming for you, you running away, and no escape.
This is the world of fear. It’s a very convincing illusion.
The next time you feel like this, see if you can gently, kindly take a look at what seems so scary, the pain or something else. Feel yourself wanting to turn away from it, to run from it. And keep gently returning to it. Maybe you will find that it’s not as scary as you thought. Maybe you will realize that you don’t need to run. And maybe you will find some rest.
I hope you do.