The Difference Between Pain and Suffering

Pain is probably one of our most universal experiences. We feel it when we are born. We feel it when we die. We feel it countless times throughout our lifetime in a spectrum of different ways.

Heartbreak. 

Injury.

Illness.

Loss.

But does pain necessarily equal suffering?

As I’ve written recently, I’ve been laid up a bit these past few weeks with a bad neck and a resulting flare up of my panic/anxiety issues. I think is is safe to say that some days there was both pain and suffering present as I was laid out on the sofa.

Not only was I hurting and unable to do what I wanted to do, but I was frequently thinking about how frustrated I was that I was hurting and unable to live my normal life. Not only would I think about it, but I would share my worries and complaints with whoever would listen.

Eventually I got tired of hearing my own self complain.

One day for a change of pace, I asked my husband how things were going preparing for the Mindfulness class that he was to start up that afternoon. He shared how they were going to start with the raisin meditation and then shift into discussing the difference between the Doing State and Being State.

Thinking I had been involved with a lot more being than doing lately, I asked him to refresh my memory on the differences.

“Oh, the doing state is where we get caught up with where we should be and what we think we should be doing. The being state is where we let ourselves be just where we are. We accept the present without struggle,” he said.

Oh, man. At that moment, I was amazed at just how much Doing I had been accomplishing laid up there on the sofa.

And here I thought I had hardly been able to do anything at all.

But really what I had been doing most was making myself suffer. 

The pain in the neck may have been inevitable. And to a certain degree some of the anxiety may have been inevitable as well.

But my lack of acceptance of the pain and my limitations was a choice that I was making.

A choice that was leading to much unhappiness and stress in my life.

I cannot say that after that epiphany I have ceased to suffer at all. But I am trying to lean into being present where I am and letting that place be okay. Even if there is some pain involved. Even if it involves adjusting my expectations on what life should look like.

And sometimes it works. Like on the MRI table today when I initially thought “Oh my God, how and I going to lay still and listen to this loud noise bang in my ear for 30 minutes to an hour? This is going to be a nightmare!” But then I took a breath and started making up songs to the rhythm of the banging.  Songs about healing. Songs of prayer. And in a little while I heard the voice of my tech telling me the test was over and how great I had done. Mostly because I had allowed myself to be present in that long white tube of noise.

So the next time your life is not quite living up the the ideal that you had hoped it would be (and honestly, when does it ever?) Maybe you’ll allow yourself to let go a little? To release yourself from the struggle to be where you think you should be and just allow yourself to be where you actually are?  

Even if that place holds pain.

We cannot remove all of the pain from our life. Oh, how I wish we could. But we can eliminate some of the suffering that comes with fighting pain. And we can allow ourselves to find moments of joy and gratitude wherever we are.

the difference between pain and suffering

 

Where Is God When We Suffer?

Out of all the big questions that we ask about God, ” Where is God when we suffer?” may be the biggest.

My suffering is not great on a global scale, however the past couple of weeks have been a challenge for me. I’ve been struggling with some whiplash that left me weak and painful. Moreover I was struggling with the side effects of the medication that I was taking to treat whiplash.

I have a tendency toward anxiety and the steroid shots that I received send my panic and anxiety into overdrive.

One day while home alone, I was particularly struggling with both the pain and the panic. I tried deep breathing. I tried relaxing my muscles. I tried praying and praying all to no avail. Finally I decided to turn on Netflix for some distraction.

In a medicated attempt to search for When Harry Met Sally I ended up queuing up  Where is God when I’m Scared?” by the Veggie Tales. I am NOT and have never been a fan of Veggie Tales, but I decided that this choice suited the moment and maybe God was moving through Netflix, so I humbled myself and went with it.

The Scripture passage the vegetables were talking about that day was Daniel in the lion’s den. Two things stand out to me in my tear stained memory of that show.

 

The God who loves you and calls you by name

is bigger than all of your fear.

And this God is With You, even in the lion’s den.

 

Though I am getting better and better each day I find myself still clinging to those two truths.

And if you are going through a hard time or otherwise struggle with fear, I would offer these to you as well (without you even having to humble yourself to animated vegetables).

No matter what fearsome monster is chasing you

Illness
Failed relationships
Job struggles
or just the sheer brokenness of it all

God’s love is bigger by far.

And no matter what your lion’s den looks like or how long you are in it, you are not alone.  The lions may roar and even bite, but God is right beside you preserving you.

Because it turns out God does not pluck us out of our suffering, but sits with us and loves us through it. So that we may endure it till its passing or until we pass into that greater reality where suffering is totally eclipsed by God’s presence and love.

Until then friends, may your hardships be light. But if they are not, always remember you are loved and never alone.

And know that I will be glad to pray for your struggles even as I find my way through my own.

Where is God when we are suffering?

Learning To Ask For Help

It has been a rough week and a half here at Centering Down.  I have been slowly recovering from a whiplash injury.   The pain and weakness in my neck has been pretty debilitating.

Needless to say, it is deeply

frustrating to run up against my limits this way.  We all want to believe we are endlessly strong and healthy and capable and then . . . BOOM . . . Life comes along and sets us straight on how mortal and even fragile we really are.

As I have had plenty of time to think this week, I have asked myself over and over what the gift in this situation
is. What is the silver lining to this cloud?

The first gift that comes to mind is that in my incapacitated state I have  actually learned to ask for help.

I don’t know about you,  but I am much more used to being the one who delivers the casserole than being the one who receives it.

This switch in roles is not easy,  but I think it is good for me.  We all need to be able to reach out for and receive help from time to time.  Sure it is humbling.

But it also shows me how much I am cared for and loved.

And that is as silver lining to hold onto long after this cloud has passed.

I hope this post finds you doing well, but maybe not so well that you forget your need of others’ help and love. And if times get rough, may you have casseroles to spare.

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Calming Anxiety with Breathing Techniques

As my husband and I teach another round of our anxiety management class, Calming the Storms, I thought I would take some time to share a few of our best anxiety reducing techniques with you here at Centering Down.

The first tip that we share with our class and with anyone who is dealing with anxiety or stress may surprise you.

Calming anxiety with breathing techniques

Yes, The simple act of changing our breathing can have a powerful affect on our minds and bodies. I know I am biased towards breathing practices because I am a yoga teacher and breathing goes with yoga like peanut butter goes with jelly. But over the years as I’ve dealt with my anxiety, the breath has gotten me through countless panic attacks, fearful moments, and just plain hard days. My husband, a licensed mental health therapist also routinely makes a point to teach his clients early on how to breath.

Why would we teach a function that our body does automatically?

There are a couple of answers to that question.

One is that we have forgotten how to breath.

If you watch a sleeping child or pet breath, you’ll notice how their little bellies rise and fall with the rhythm of their breath. This is because they are breathing with their whole torso, and not just the tops of their lungs. Unlike our peacefully sleeping pets, many of us go through our days breathing short, shallow breaths. We do not notice how shallow our breathing is because it is enough to get us by and we are busy dealing with the million other details in our life that our executive brain functioning doesn’t handle automatically.

Then we get stressed and things get worse. Our muscles clench, our chest tightens. The breath gets even more restricted and uneven. We may even begin to hold our breath.

As our adrenaline and cortisol levels begin to rise and our body goes into a full fledged stress response, we have a choice to make.

Are we going to ride the stress and anxiety roller coaster once again? Or are we going to intervene before things escalate any further by focusing on our breathing?

Because here is the other brilliant thing about the breath. 

When we consciously deepen and lengthen our breathing, it not only prevents the escalation of stress and anxiety, but it also triggers the parasympathetic nervous system in a way that dims the stress response that is happening in our body.

As soon as I feel myself move into a space of panic, anxiety, or just high stress, I immediately check in with my breathing. After shifting my breathing from short and choppy to deep, full, and smooth (what we often call “Belly breathing”) for about five minutes or so, I can usually feel a marked difference.

My heart rate slows and steadies.

My mind begins to think more clearly.

My emotions begin to level out.

Now belly breathing is not a cure all. But it can definitely keep a situation from going from bad to worse and hopefully takes the edge off the bad. If practiced regularly, deep breathing can be a nice preventative that keeps stress and anxiety at bay. Five to ten minutes of belly breathing lying in bed at night is a wonderful way to send yourself off to a deep and peaceful sleep.

If you are unfamiliar with belly breathing and would like to learn how, here is a little video to get you started:

I hope that this technique helps you as you deal with stress and anxiety in your life both as a daily preventative and in times of need.

Remember, if all else fails just keep breathing!

 

Stayed tuned next week for more stress and anxiety reducing tips and techniques.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Giveaway Winners

The prize giving puppies are excited to share with you that they have chosen the winners of last week’s giveaways!

 

giveaway prize puppies

 

 

Congratulations to the winners who will be notified today via e-mail and 

THANK YOU

again and again to all of you for your support.

As Emily Freeman shared recently at She Speaks,

 

A blog is not just the words of one person,

but a community that comes together to share about matters that

are important to them all.

Thank you for sharing this space with me. I hope that you all feel safe and supported in sharing the matters that are on your heart and that you would find something here that encourages you toward

giveaway

 

Peace to you all and Happy Monday!

 

On Needing Each Other

I write this post on the fifth day of my husband being out of town for a work conference. It has not been the longest or worst week of my life, but we have definitely felt his absence. We have moped around the house during the day and slept fitfully at night. Family dinners have degenerated into microwaved leftovers eaten around the coffee table while we binge watch Brady Bunch.

It is painfully obvious to me by the end of this week how very much we need this guy in our life.

At first I took this need as a sign of moral failure.

As a modern woman, shouldn’t I be capable of managing on my own?

Am I a failure as a feminist because I need my man in my life to thrive?

Am I a co-dependent wreck?!?

As I was mulling over these thoughts late at night while Not Sleeping, I started remembering the last time my husband and I were apart for so long.

I realized it was exactly ten years ago this week.

Instead of going away for a week long work trip, my husband had gone to China for two weeks to adopt our 13 month old daughter. When we began our adoption process we had assumed that this was a trip we would take together as a family. However fate chimed in and I ended up staying at home to recover from a C-Section and care for our five week old son while my husband boarded a jet plane bound for the Far East.

I didn’t sleep much during that absence either. I remember nursing my son in my parents recliner during the wee hours of the morning and waiting night after night for the phone to ring. I remember the tearful awe in my husband’s voice when he told me he had our daughter. How I gave my sleepy son a baby high five. And a few nights later I remember how I heard my daughter’s laugh for the first time even though she was half a world away.

As painful as it was to be apart during the time my husband welcomed our daughter into our family, I also remember how wonderful it was when we all were finally back under the same roof. After crashing into an exhausted sleep that first night, my jet lagged duo had awoken during the night and moved to the living room for a play session and snack. When my son and I awoke early the next morning, we snuck into the living room to find my husband and daughter passed out on the floor mid play. I climbed into our recliner and snuggled my son in to nurse and nap.  As we all drifted in and out of sleep, rain from a tropical storm I didn’t even know was hitting poured on our roof and windows. As the rain fell and wind howled, all I could do was give thanks that we were together, safe and dry in this same room, even though we were surrounded by a storm.

As we have gone through this tender and emotional week, that memory keeps coming back to me. The feeling of togetherness that made all the challenges and difficulty of raising two kids under 15 months worth facing and conquering. No matter how hard the storms of life raged, at least we were facing them together, a truth that seemed to outweigh all other factors.

In light of that, I have decided that it is okay that I have missed my husband like crazy this week. And I’m not necessarily a co-dependent wreck for doing so.

It is just that as people, we simply need each other. And the sooner we realize this truth and lean into interdependency, the better off we will be.

But this is not just a truth meant for families.

I am coming to believe that our interdependency is more universal than we could even imagine.

As my tender heart breaks watching Iraqis chase other Iraqis up mountains and slaughter their own neighbor’s children.

As I hear with sadness and grief how a policeman killed a youth from his own town, splitting the town in two with anger and fear.

As I watch our world war with and hurt its own self, I shake my head and weep. For I don’t really know how to answer any of these problems.  Heck I can barely get myself through my own day.

But I do know this.

On Needing Each Other

Whether we are from the same part of the world or not, are the same religion or not, or have the same color of skin or not.

We still are dependent on each other to thrive in this world.

We cannot be cut off from each other.

We certainly cannot cut each other out.

The only way to get through this life is to get through it together.

Even as I pray to be re-united with the man I love, I pray for re-unification for so many. For nations at war, for cities in strife, for all of us that do not realize we need to be connected with the Iraqi children and young African American men who are in danger as well as the wrongdoers who persecuting them.

Maybe peace and reconciliation and restoration come to us all.

 

 

 

 

Bring the Sacred into Your Family’s Everyday

Creating family Worship

If you are like me, you want to bring moments of sacred and holy into the everyday grind of your family’s life. You want to make time for family prayers, read Scripture together, and have time to reflect on where … Continue reading