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Book Review of the pain companion

The Pain Companion is by Sarah Anne Shockey

author Sarah Anne Shockley

The Pain Companion is less about the physical pain we feel and more about our relationship and resistance to pain. Therefore, more about the mental and emotional suffering that comes with pain and a revisit on our perception of pain. I find it a beneficial exploration into what we call pain acceptance.

Excerpt of The Pain Companion

Once I realized that pain was not going to be leaving my body anytime soon and that I simply didn’t understand its purpose, I decided to meet it face-to-face, so to speak. I wondered what pain would look like if it appeared in front of me for the purposes of a dialogue.

This intrigued me. If pain took form, I could ask it questions. I could see the meaning it held in the form it took. I could see it as something with boundaries rather than an all-consuming reality.

From that point on, I began to dream up new avenues of dialogue with pain in order to understand how it connected with and was interwoven through both the physical and the nonphysical layers of the self. I created ways to interact with pain differently, to establish a new kind of relationship with it and, ultimately, with myself.

I began by getting quiet. I asked pain questions. I wrote letters to pain. I played with the idea of pain as a messenger, a character, a force for good. I wanted to know what pain had to do with me and how it expressed as me and through me. I turned my ideas about pain on their head.

There is a section on the emotional ramifications of pain. Our guilt, isolation, anger and blame, sadness and loss. And it is interesting to see the authors perspective on this, as I have written a great deal about these as well. It is a mental, emotional, and physical maze we have to navigate to try and cope with pain.

The section on meditative approaches to pain is well worth the exploration. It is thought-provoking when you engage in them. It gives you a lot of insight into pain. Some of them I did already in my own way. She talks about ‘releasing contraction’ and I do a body scan meditation designed to tense and release the entire body. It is a way of understanding how tense we are in pain. Another she talks about breathing into the pain space in ‘paying attention to pain’ I do as well. But, I breathe into pain, which magnifies it, and relax when I breathe out, which releases it. In this way, you do understand the shape of pain, exist with it, and release the tension of it.

“Perhaps the manifestations of the profoundest healing include the understanding  that pain sensations may be more than  just a physical reaction; they may include  the expression of deeper levels of the self as well.” p92

In other meditations, there is great value in thinking about our pain experience. It begins with ‘shifting your relationship to pain’ and exploring what that relationship is now and what it could be. In the meditation ‘giving pain what it wants,’ I found some interesting dialogue between the physical pain and my perception of pain. Others are writing a complain letter to your pain and telling your pain story. You know there is a lot of value exploring your pain story, which we all have, and reevaluating what works and what doesn’t work with how we cope with pain. All of the exercises will get you thinking. About resistance, about compassion, tension and release, and what our relationship to pain is.

Whether your pain is recent or a long, long mode of being, such as with me, there is a lot of value in exploring how we relate to pain and how we could relate to it. The Pain Companion is a great way to nudge you into that exploration, listen to the author’s perspective

Additionally, we have been conditioned by our culture to keep going no matter what. We are not taught to listen to the body, or to our emotions and feeling states as they relate to the body, and certainly not to listen to or honor pain. We override the body’s signals routinely by working too many long days, by overeating or undereating, and by using various substances to feel energized when we’re exhausted or to calm down when we’re hyper.

In a society driven by schedules and fairly rigid work and educational structures, it’s probably a natural consequence that we would develop a medical system that makes getting back on track as soon as possible one of its top priorities. Nothing seems to be wrong with that on the surface, but what if, by doing that, we are sidestepping a significant purpose within the process of healing?

It is worthwhile to engage with our pain, mentally, physically, and emotionally to determine how best to relate to it and have acceptance through it. And what could we learn if we did? The Pain Companion may give you insights into this process.

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