FindÂing Your FlexÂiÂbilÂiÂty â Some years ago, the WorkÂerâs ComÂpenÂsaÂtion Board in Ontario invitÂed me to start workÂing with injured workÂers. DarÂbelÂla and I taught them medÂiÂtaÂtion, qi gong, and some yoga stretchÂes.
We thought we were going to take the project province wide, but then the govÂernÂment shiftÂed priÂorÂiÂties, and stopped hirÂing outÂside conÂsulÂtants. Or someÂthing like that.
So, we had all of this mateÂrÂiÂal, and decidÂed it was so good, weâd turn it into an online course. And that evolved into a pdf bookÂlet, and online videos.
On the off chance that you might be expeÂriÂencÂing any kind of pain (physÂiÂcal or menÂtal), this course might be for you.
Check out Finding Your Flexibility here!
Hereâs the introduction!
This is the first in what will be a series of book-online video comÂbiÂnaÂtions. Our goal is to make Qi Gong, MedÂiÂtaÂtion, StretchÂes and BreathÂwork âdo-ableâ by peoÂple beginÂning these pracÂtices in midÂdle age, and by peoÂple with physÂiÂcal limÂiÂtaÂtions. We designed this proÂgram because of a request from Ontarioâs WorkÂplace SafeÂty and InsurÂance Board, to aid injured workÂers.
The Phoenix Centreâs work is always inteÂgraÂtive, and part of âinteÂgraÂtionâ is theÂoÂretÂiÂcal. In othÂer words, you need to âget where we are comÂing fromââto underÂstand the conÂcepts that underÂlie the exerÂcisÂes. You donât have to accept or believe themâjust hold them looseÂly in your mind as you experÂiÂment with the techÂniques on the on-line videos.
After one semÂiÂnar, a parÂticÂiÂpant said, âI am realÂly in pain. NothÂing has worked, and itâs only going to get worse. Now you show up with these ideas. I canât accept them until they work, and they canât work until thereâs a change in my body mechanÂics.â
I said, âOr, you could just give some of this stuff a seriÂous effort, and see what hapÂpens.â He paused, and then said, âIt canât hurt, I guess.â
I would only ask one thing of you. Approach this process with an open mind, and actuÂalÂly do the exerÂcisÂes on the on-line videos. Read and re-read this book, and comÂmit to 30 days of repeatÂing the exerÂcisÂes. See where things are at that point. There are no guarÂanÂtees in advance, othÂer than this one:
If you keep doing what youâve been doing, youâll likeÂly get the same results.
In the interÂest of avoidÂing injury or mishap, any kind of strenÂuÂous physÂiÂcal activÂiÂty conÂductÂed withÂout the assisÂtance of a proÂfesÂsionÂal coach or trainÂer should be disÂcussed with oneâs physiÂcian or perÂsonÂal healthÂcare adviÂsor. The exerÂcisÂes and advice put forth in this book and on-line videos are by no means a subÂstiÂtute for medÂical care or experÂtise. NevÂer over exert yourÂself. If you expeÂriÂence any sort of disÂcomÂfort stop immeÂdiÂateÂly and, if necÂesÂsary, seek medÂical attenÂtion.
ThroughÂout this book, and to some extent on the on-line videos, Iâm going to describe EastÂern and WestÂern approachÂes to livÂing, to BodyÂwork and exerÂcise, and to pain manÂageÂment. I want to help you see how comÂbinÂing these two approachÂes might be the smartest thing you ever did.
My iniÂtial trainÂing was in WestÂern psyÂchotherÂaÂpy, which is often called the âtalkÂing cure.â There were body eleÂments to this: we looked at breathÂing; we did psyÂchodraÂma (actÂing out sceÂnarÂios, in groups) and studÂied Gestalt, which has many physÂiÂcal aspects.
In my clinÂiÂcal pracÂtice, I had years of sucÂcess with the âtalkÂing cure.â What I noticed, howÂevÂer, was that the relief tendÂed to be menÂtalâin othÂer words, peoÂple gained comÂmuÂniÂcaÂtion skills, betÂter underÂstandÂing of their stoÂries, and tools for talkÂing through emergÂing issues. What wasnât hapÂpenÂing was any (or much) change on the physÂiÂcal levÂel. PeoÂple with great menÂtal copÂing skills were still in physÂiÂcal pain, and things werenât getÂting betÂter with time.
I startÂed explorÂing EastÂern philosoÂphies and techÂniques, to see if I could find someÂthing to try. I learned that there was a direct and funÂdaÂmenÂtal conÂnecÂtion between what peoÂple thought (clung to,) and what was hapÂpenÂing in their bodÂies.
In 1996, I attendÂed a 25-day proÂgram at The Haven, near Nanaimo, B.C. There, I learned a WestÂern verÂsion of BodyÂwork. I learned BodyÂwork theÂoÂryâthat our bodÂies hold withÂin their physÂiÂcal strucÂture the stoÂry of our unreÂsolved issues and past trauÂmas, physÂiÂcal and psyÂchoÂlogÂiÂcal. A trained BodyÂwork pracÂtiÂtionÂer can simÂply look at how you carÂry yourÂself and can thereÂby tell you much of your life stoÂry.
BodyÂwork emerged from the insights of WilÂhelm Reich, a 20th cenÂtuÂry psyÂchoÂanÂaÂlyst. He idenÂtiÂfied what he called âcharÂacÂter traits,â and decidÂed that such traits were reacÂtions to the personâs rejectÂed (and blocked) emoÂtions.
His idea was that peoÂple develÂoped rigid perÂsonÂalÂiÂties, made up of varÂiÂous interÂnal storiesâthese stoÂries, if left unexÂamÂined, became rigid states as opposed to flexÂiÂble choicÂes.
Reich decidÂed that charÂacÂter traits were held in place by the personâs âcharÂacÂter armour,â which is an actuÂal tightÂenÂing of the musÂcles of the body. He furÂther disÂcovÂered that guidÂing clients into their tightÂness, (through BreathÂwork and applyÂing presÂsure to the body,) helped clients to break through the charÂacÂter armour, and from there, to begin to disÂasÂsemÂble the inefÂfecÂtive charÂacÂter traits and stoÂries.
So, letâs apply this to you. You might ask yourÂself:
âWhy do I expeÂriÂence pain in this part of my body, and
whatâs the stoÂry I tell myself about it?â
I think you might disÂcovÂer that there has been sigÂnifÂiÂcant tightÂness in the part of your and now, this same tightÂness adds to the pain you feel as you work with this area. There is more hapÂpenÂing beneath the surÂface than is immeÂdiÂateÂly apparÂent.
Well, that was a bit about Reich and WestÂern approachÂes. Of course, othÂer WestÂern tools are things like physÂioÂtherÂaÂpy, drugs, and surgery.
On the EastÂern side of things, EastÂern methÂods assume that the body is filled with enerÂgy. This enerÂgy can be directÂed, and used for healÂing. Youâll hear us talk a bit about meridÂiÂans, about enerÂgy (called chi or Qi,) and about how enerÂgy blockÂages cause the body to be âout of balÂance.â
In EastÂern thought, our bodÂies are seen holisÂtiÂcalÂly, as BodyÂMindÂSpirÂit. We are designed to natÂuÂralÂly be in balÂance. InterÂnal illÂnessÂes and exterÂnal injuries cause the enerÂgy to flow non-natÂuÂralÂly, and this in turn leads to pain and inflexÂiÂbilÂiÂty.
Pain reducÂtion and increased flexÂiÂbilÂiÂty are goals of this programâwe assume that this will hapÂpen as the body comes more and more into balÂance. In othÂer words, through speÂcifÂic exerÂcisÂes and medÂiÂtaÂtion, weâll treat the imbalÂance, and allow the pain and stiffÂness to take care of itself.
We menÂtioned that there are things youâd need to âget,â and hereâs the first one. You will need to see how your BodyÂMindÂSpirÂit is right now as part of a longer âstoryââin a sense, to accept the idea that your body is holdÂing unexÂpressed emoÂtions and trauÂmas that pre-disÂpose you to be in less than optiÂmal conÂdiÂtion.
We call this underÂstandÂing âthe core of self-responÂsiÂbilÂiÂty.â In othÂer words,
âI am how I am, right now, because of how I thought, actÂed,
and dealt with my life, up to now.â
Iâm askÂing you to look to yourÂself, to idenÂtiÂfy areas you have been ignorÂing, and to genÂtly turn your attenÂtion to those things. No one but you can turn the tide. Youâll have to break habits and learn to think and act in a new way, but hey, the way you were doing things hasnât exactÂly panned out, now has it?
The real work is always self-work.
The simÂplest way to begin is to have a sense of humour. Notice how you stay stuck, notice where in your body you are tight, and smile and shake your head. If you do not like how you feel or how you are thinkÂing, change your focus and direcÂtion. In othÂer words, no matÂter what, fix yourÂself as soon as you notice you are going off the rails.
Itâs imporÂtant to watch how we deal with events that seem largÂer than lifeâthat we think of as âNot fair!â GathÂered under this umbrelÂla are things like death, illÂness, acciÂdents, pain, sufÂferÂing, globÂal catÂaÂstroÂphes, abuse, and the like.
When we are kids, we hear fairyÂtales about peoÂple livÂing âhapÂpiÂly ever after.â We believe in SanÂta and the EastÂer BunÂny. Then, we grow up, and give up on SanÂta, fairies, and the BunÂny, but seem to keep the âmagÂiÂcal thinkingââif I am good, only good things will hapÂpen to me. For free. All the time.
The othÂer side of this coin is the idea that if âbad stuffâ hapÂpens, the recipÂiÂent must have âdeserved it.â Itâs thinkÂing, âBad things only (or should only) hapÂpen to bad peoÂple.â If you hang around wakes or funerÂal parÂlors, and if the dead perÂson died of anyÂthing othÂer than of old age, you will hear some moron say, âI wonÂder why God was mad at him. I wonÂder what he did to deserve this.â
Being a pracÂtiÂcal, Zen perÂson, I wonÂder, âWhy not this perÂson?â
What, exactÂly, is âfairâ treatÂment? There is no such thing. There is just the truth of lifeâthis hapÂpened, and this hapÂpened, and this hapÂpened.
The realÂiÂty of our lives is that we live in the midst of pain, sufÂferÂing, and death. No one has escaped this. Most of us will outÂlive our parÂents. Some of us will outÂlive our chilÂdren. There will be illÂnessÂes, acciÂdents, pain. WonÂderÂing about âwhyâ is an attempt to avoid conÂfronting the realÂiÂty of our own sickÂness, ageÂing, and death.
There is no why. WhatÂevÂer hapÂpened in your life did hapÂpen, so whatâs the sense of putting enerÂgy into the âwhy?â thought? Itâs also useÂless to go a step furÂther and start assignÂing blame. âSomeÂone should have done someÂthing!â This should nevÂer have hapÂpened!â
And what changes? Nothing! It still happened.
The only cure for all of this is the total accepÂtance of what is. From a place of accepÂtance, I can then choose to act difÂferÂentÂly right now, instead of just whinÂing about unfairÂness.
âThe way it is, is the way it is,â and fairÂness has nothÂing to do with it.
Pain is one realÂiÂty that touchÂes all of our lives. For all of us, there will be the emoÂtionÂal pain of grief and loss. If we are injured, there must be physÂiÂcal pain. In every life, pain is not optionÂal.
SufÂferÂing, howÂevÂer, is optionÂal.
All sufÂferÂing is self-imposed. The Buddhaâs first truth is, âLife is sufÂferÂing.â But his secÂond truth is, âAll sufÂferÂing is caused by clingÂing and averÂsion.â In our examÂples, clingÂing is holdÂing on to magÂiÂcal thinkÂing. AverÂsion is the unwillÂingÂness to embrace (accept) the realÂiÂty of the pain. The irony is that such averÂsion, clingÂing, and denial is crazy makÂing, menÂtalÂly painful, makes the actuÂal physÂiÂcal pain much worse, and changes absoluteÂly nothÂing.
One root of sufÂferÂing comes from clingÂing to the pastâwanting everyÂthing to be the way it was before the âbadâ thing hapÂpened. This, of course, will not and canÂnot ever hapÂpen, no matÂter how much you wish it were so. And so, you sufÂfer.
The othÂer root of sufÂferÂing comes from imagÂinÂing the futureâand makÂing that future as grim and pain-filled as posÂsiÂble. I wonât get into why we do thisâitâs not worth the readÂing. This imagÂiÂnary stoÂry causÂes us to physÂiÂcalÂly tightÂen up and to dump a load of adrenÂaÂline into our systemsâand this, in turn, adds to our pain.
In both casÂes, sufÂferÂing comes from hatÂing and resistÂing pain. Yet, the pain is realâis part of our realÂiÂty.
Ram Dass once said someÂthing like,
âLife is painful; itâs like havÂing a hot stone placed on the palm of your hand.
You have two options.
Grasp the stone tightÂly and burn your whole hand, or
hold the stone lightÂly and only burn the part under the stone. Choose.â
Most choose hardÂenÂing and tightÂenÂing around the pain, while adding in the âThis isnât fairâ litany. And so, they sufÂfer.
The Buddhaâs third truth: If you let go of clingÂing and averÂsion, and live your life fulÂly and comÂpleteÂly, you can let go of sufÂferÂing (but not pain, sickÂness, and deathâthis is not optionÂal!)
In other words, situations do not changeâyou do!
I am not minÂiÂmizÂing painâI am simÂply sayÂing that it is âhow it is.â There will always be physÂiÂcal pain, and there will always be sitÂuÂaÂtions that are agoÂnizÂing. There will always be depraved peoÂple preyÂing on innoÂcents, and tragedy and death are as much a part of life a blue skies and sunÂsets. BemoanÂing the exisÂtence of such painful sitÂuÂaÂtions changes preÂciseÂly nothÂing.
CreÂatÂing anothÂer way of being with the sitÂuÂaÂtion is always posÂsiÂble. The key to livÂing life with a minÂiÂmum of sufÂferÂing is to hold life, and your opinÂions, looseÂly. While it is temptÂing to play the âItâs not fairâ game, it is essenÂtial to rememÂber that this accomÂplishÂes nothÂing in the real world.
The world is neiÂther fair, nor unfair. The world simÂply is. AcceptÂing this realÂiÂty, as well as our abilÂiÂty to deal with the pain that life brings, is essenÂtial for manÂagÂing your pain.
Hold the burnÂing stone looseÂly.