The Language of Pain

In response to a previous post on the Christopher & Dana Reeve Foundation webpage, a woman felt grateful for what she received from my words. She implied that she is living with pretty severe chronic pain and was looking for a way to live with it. She felt my previous post was very helpful. Here is my response:

Physician David Brio wrote The Language of Pain: Finding Words, Compassion, and Relief. (Read a review here.)

It was about his excruciating experience with bone marrow transplant. In the book he said there really are no words for us to describe our pain. Of course those 1-10 charts are ridiculous. But even as we try to describe our own pain, words fail. “It’s like the worst sunburn you’ve ever had. It’s like a hot poker going through my arm. It’s like a vice tightening around my head.” We’ve all used our own descriptions of pain, but none of them are accurate. Pain has no language.

And because we are living an experience that cannot be described, we feel isolated-sometimes alone and misunderstood. So what can we do? Close your eyes for a moment and feel compassion in your heart for all people-all living beings who suffer with pain. For more compassion for others and the more compassion for yourself, the less likely pain will destroy the quality of your life. Compassion will not change the severity of the pain, but it will change our relationship to it.

And believe me, work, exercise, parenting or playing are not distractions from your pain. Flip it around the other way and perhaps pain is a distraction from your life. You see, when you are working or doing almost anything else, what you are doing at that moment is your real life. Where your mind goes is where your mind goes, but that doesn’t make it real.

And although I appreciate your saying that I am a very kind person, I could say the same to you and to everyone reading this right now. We are all born with a loving and compassionate heart. It simply goes underground for some of us-many of us. But cultivating compassion and kindness helps reveal that loving heart that has been inside of us for our whole lives.

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