True confessions: living and loving with pain

ImageSo, here’s a confession.

Today, I’m working with one of the deepest teachers of my life:

Chronic pain.

This isn’t a teacher I’ve talked about a lot. 

It’s not glamorous or attractive.

It isn’t a teacher I wanted to have.

Pain never is.

But, today, I’m waking up for the umpteenth morning with enough pain in my hands, wrists and elbows that just lifting a glass of water is excruciating.  Aaack!  I live on a farm, these days.  I love it.  We do tons of things with or hands.  Our hands make the farm work.  And… my hands just don’t know how to do it, some days.

Pain like this has been a significant teacher for long periods of my life.  It’s been so bad at times that it’s made me wonder if I would die, or live the rest of my life curled into a grumpy, crabbed ball.  It’s scary and frustrating and un-fun, and it makes it challenging to be the happy, capable, engaged person I like to be.  In this, it’s forced me to look at my deepest stories about what matters, who I think I “should” be, and to move consciously towards loving solutions.  It’s been my deepest teacher about self forgiveness, acceptance and loving what is.  It’s shown me how to “show up” even when showing up is difficult.  It’s been a driving factor in my commitment to yoga, dance, healthy eating, personal development and prayer.  It’s one of the main reasons why I have such strong discipline to maintain and sustain my practices. 

They make my life liveable.

So, today I am practicing what I preach about the value of authenticity by sharing this experience. 

Because, I know I’m not alone.

If you deal with pain, here are a few things to do:

  • Keep doing what you love.  Find gentle, modified ways to do whatever it is that you love to do.  Do the deep ego work you need to do around how you do those things.  If you can’t push as hard, run as strong, or do things as fast as you want, that’s a part of the teaching to be present with what is and embrace change.  Maybe there is a creative opportunity to enjoy new rhythms, subtlety or depth?
  • Seek company.  Don’t isolate.  Share with significant others and friends.  Take the risk to be vulnerable and seen.  Chronic pain is often invisible, so don’t make yourself invisible in your experience.
  • Move.  Yoga, dance, hiking, swimming.  Find your “thing” that you can do, and do it.  Stasis loves stasis.  Health loves movement.  Choose health.
  • Feel all your feelings.  Find a safe space with a coach, therapist, healer or within ceremony, to feel all your feelings about what is going on for you.  Underneath chronic pain are often deep past traumas or issues of self love and self worth.  Your significant other or friends may or may not be able to hold the charge of your feelings, respect them fully, or not take them personally.  So, make sure you have at least one person or space that can hold you in the totality of your experience.
  • Practice Gratitude.  Yes.  It’s still true, you have a life, a body, a human heart.  And, it is possible, on some level, to love the pain, because it is showing you just how much you love your life.  Even now, as I write this, in the power of the word, my experience of my own pain is shifting. 
  • Choose your mood.  Loving in the face of pain is deep practice.  Pain twists your mind.  So, it becomes a deep practice of mindfulness to recognize that the pain is not you so you can reside in awake awareness and choose the set-point of your mood.  This does not mean being inauthentic.  It means the mind is your most powerful ally in how you receive your own experience and move outwards into the world.
  • Remove inflammatory foods from of your diet.  Start with nightshades:  potatoes, tomatoes, eggplant and peppers.  Other possible culprits:  caffeine, alcohol, gluten, soy, sugar, impure water (that includes water from any plastic bottle).
  • Seek natural beauty.  Sunlight, warm ocean water and hot springs.  Period.

These are not, of course, clinical recommendations.  Depending on what you are dealing with, different kinds of dietary, holistic and/or medical support may be needed. 

But, the thing is, pain or no pain, the reason we’re here is to love.  I gotta live my life one way or the other, and I intend to love it.  So, today I’m making an even bigger commitment to embrace the teaching of this cycle of pain and to reach into myself and towards my community and loved ones to stay connected, stay real, and heal. 

And, if this speaks to you, I’m with you.  Let’s live!





Mid-August.  It is Monday night in Tokyo: hot, sultry weather and a room full of bodies in full motion.  Thirty dancers reveal the soul dancing as I “hold space” – just being fully myself and weaving light in the room.  The whole place vibrates, and I feel the earth sending waves of gratitude to us through the floor.

It is a remarkable and brave thing to dance your soul.  Naked, vulnerable and free, I see dancers opening body, heart and spirit in the motion.  Sweaty and blissful, I see people in divine radiance.  I see courage.  I see the whole person.  I see the dance of life, death and birth.  I see timelessness.  It’s exquisite!


As I witness, I begin to contemplate this remarkable courage, expression and beauty.  I think about who these dancers are as people, as spirits, as wisdom keepers.  I shiver.

What is a person? A person is a collection of perceptions, feelings and actions.  A person is a skin bag full of bones, blood and heart.  A person is a miracle – with arms, legs, spine and a mouth to speak.  A person is a spiritual event happening one moment at a time.   A person is a body that includes the physical, emotional, mental, higher self, soul and spirit, all weaving together in one unfolding conversation of Self.    A person is a dance.

What is a dance? A dance is an act of essence.  It is a set of motions dissolving in space and time, never to be repeated again, known only through the experience of the dancer or the awareness of the witness.  A dance is a deeply courageous act.

What is courage? Courage is what I witness every day when these remarkable beings called humans come to do this incredible action called dancing.

Courage is naked self. It requires a willingness to perceive, feel and act.  It requires presence.  It takes guts.

When I see people connecting deeply to what their senses perceive, their bodies and emotions feel, and their dances express, I see raw humanity.  I see incredible, wild, truth.  I see diversity, and I see unity. I see divinity.  Courage is what I see when a person deeply perceives him or herself in the movement, allows that perception to be totally felt, and finds the willingness to express that into the dance.  It is risky.  There are no guarantees.  The gamble is our own freedom.

Tokyo Dance Curtains

Courage means being your self totally, without apology, shame or doubt.  It means being vulnerable.  It is a tool for being wide awake – totally alive and free.  Without the courage to be vulnerable, we can never know true power.  True power comes from embrace of life, not control over it.  The dance asks us to loose control and thus experience being – totally.  It asks us for real embrace.  You can’t dance if you are busy editing your own feelings and actions.  You have to be unconditional.  This is how we learn self-love.

Here in Tokyo, we are dancing.  People are coming together – body and soul – to Dance Freedom and sweat prayers.   Everything is breaking open: hearts wide open, pores wide open, voices wide open, expression wide open!  I am in AWE of what I see.  Awe.  There is no other word for it.  It get kundalini waves just thinking about it.

The freedom to experience and express the self is such a radical thing here in Japan.  Just the concepts of self-awareness and self-leadership are radical.  There is no word for sovereignty in the Japanese Language.  In this culture, there has been so little space to feel, so little room for individuation. Space is tight.  You get by.  You do what you are told.  You fit in and work hard and live in responsibility to your family and ancestors.  You live in the context of a larger culture, an older order and continuity over which you have no control.  Yet, there is an incredible momentum towards self development and a growing drive towards sovereignty.  There is also a call to release the old pictures of cultural identity to enter new possibilities of beauty.  People are claiming their power and recognizing that they are creators.  There is a spark of passion – soul fire! – coming alive everywhere, like the day glow colors on the billboards of this endless city.  These people are so courageous!

This new Soul Fire is idiosyncratic, self-affirming and radiantly alive.  It arrives as a wordless drive, or a will to know, and it opens the gates of the heart.   People are shedding the skins of culture and asking WHO AM I?  WHAT DO I WANT?  WHAT AM I HERE TO CREATE?  HOW CAN I LOVE – MORE?  HOW CAN I BE FREE?  WHAT IS MY PURPOSE?   HOW CAN I LET GO OF EGO?  Each place I go, I meet people struggling with the Great Questions.  It is time to dance.  In the dance we arrive at sensation, feeling and action: the simplest building blocks of our humanity.  We remember that the answers are not external, like new clothes or new jobs, but are held in the heart and in the ways in which we experience our lives. We find the courage to be ourselves, and THIS is the only real answer.  Let life be an endless question.  It is much more interesting that way.  This is where the Dance of Freedom begins.

Tokyo Crew 4

“Ours is not the task of fixing the entire world all at once, but of stretching out to mend the part of the world that is within our reach. One of the most calming and powerful actions you can do to intervene in a stormy world is to stand up and show your soul. Soul on deck shines like gold in dark times. The light of the soul throws sparks, can send up flares, builds signal fires.”
— Clarissa Pinkola Estes