When I was in high school I had a boyfriend who, some might say, I shouldn’t have been with. I don’t like labeling people, but I feel okay saying he had some issues. I know now that he was in my life to teach me lessons about how I treat myself, but until very recently, I blamed him for a lot of the emotional pain I’d felt for so long. It took a lot of tears, and facing my fear of feeling that grief and anger for me to finally realize I had been in a holding pattern since I was 14, resulting in stabbing pain in my upper back. I had been pushing him and his memory away without really letting his presence go and without learning the lesson I was meant to receive from him. As Pema Chodron says, “Nothing ever goes away until it has taught us what we need to know.”
So there I was, in physical pain for years because I didn’t trust that I could handle the emotional pain that would inevitably come up. The day I finally allowed myself to feel, REALLY FEEL, my anger toward him, and also toward myself for abandoning my sweet 14-year-old self way back then, the pain began to fade away.
We all have aches and pains. They can be caused by old injuries, scars, lack of movement, and musculoskeletal tension pulling our bodies out of alignment and into contorted shapes. But sometimes our memories, our stories, internal scars, wounds, the things we tell ourselves every day subconsciously can be the cause of chronic pain in our physical bodies.
The thing is, we hold onto stuff. We love to hold onto stories, retelling them to ourselves, our therapists, our friends over and over again. Even when we know it’s not serving us, even when the actual event is long past. Our bodies hold this trauma in our tissues, our muscles, fascia, blood, even bones. Threads get wrapped around themselves, tangled up, knotted, sending shadowy tendrils out through the rest of our bodies, keeping our past pain in our present moments. But in the words of Rumi, “Pain is a treasure, for it contains mercies.”
Pain is vital: Our bodies signal pain to tell us when something isn’t quite right, so we can address our environment, choices in our lives, or our connections with others. The problem arises when we don’t allow ourselves to fully feel the pain, recognize it for what it is, and let it go. In order to let go and free the physical body from pain and tension, we must be aware of where the root of tension lives.
That tension in your upper back may be from tightness in the chest. When muscles in the front body are tight they strain muscles in back, so if your pecs are tight from overuse and under-stretching, your upper back may feel the effects. Did you know tension is also caused by grief, anger, loss of personal power, or frustration? And not that irritated kind of frustration, but actual rage?
Do you have chronic jaw tension? Grind or clench your teeth at night? Get tension headaches? Pause and ask yourself “Have you been speaking your truth? Or is there something you’re not saying?” Speaking your truth isn’t about talking without a filter. It’s about saying what needs to be said, when it needs to be said, to whom it needs to be said. It’s about sharing your soul’s work with the world, and showing up authentically every day.
Everything we tell ourselves about the sensation of pain is in our mind. Our thoughts, emotions, and stories are the reaction, but it is in integrating our emotional and physical pain that we can begin to process and release. I invite you to take just 30 seconds to feel your body, sit with the sensation of pain, and compassionately begin to connect your emotional and physical states. Visualize yourself embracing your pain, thanking it for its lesson, and letting it go. Pain isn’t bad – our scars are beautiful. When we can feel them, breathe into them, unwind and lay them out, they become our connection to self, our fellow human beings, and our message of truth to the world.