June 9 – These Are the Signs – Mark Nepo, The Book of Awakening

Pain is often a sign that something has to change. 

Our hearts and bodies often give us messages we fail to pay attention to.  Ironically, we are all so aware of pain, can hardly ignore it, but we rarely hear what it has to say. It is true that we may need to withstand great pain, great heartache, great disappointment and loss in order to unfold into the rest of our lives. But our pain may also be showing us exactly where we need to change.

If we view our bodies as bridges that carry us from our inner life to our outer world, then pain often gives us insight as to where the bridge is experiencing the most stress. Pain lets us know where we might crack, where our lives need to be reinforced and rested, in order for us to keep bringing our inner and outer lives together.

During my struggle with cancer, I experienced a variety of deep and acute pains. I learned how to hold on and let go, learned how to endure – that is, let the pain go through without denying its hurt. But the most crucial thing I learned was to listen to the pain.

I was being worn down by my chemo treatments, which were very aggressive. I was trying the best I knew how to live through as many treatments as I could manage. Everyone was coaching me to stick it out. “Certainly,” I was told by those more afraid than I, “you want to swallow as much poison as you can tolerate, so the cancer will be stricken from your body completely.” I remained committed to this approach.

But after four months, I lost feeling in my fingers and toes. The chemo was causing nerve damage, and I had lost my reflexes. I struggled, unsure whether to continue or not. I felt that the cancer was gone, but the chemo was insurance. Endure more, if you can. Hold on.

Within twenty four hours, I was up in the night with the worst stomach attack I have ever experienced. There I was, ,pacing the living room floor at three in the morning, trying to endure the pain, asking God for a sign. The chemo had no ulcerated my esophagus. Another attack gripped me. I doubled over: God, give me a sign. What should I do? I want to live.

Another attack. This happened three more times, when I suddenly realized the pain was the sign. And its message was to stop. It was over. There I stood, hunched over with my windpipe bleeding and numbness in my hands and feet, and God was saying, “These are the signs. Do you wan more? I can give you more.”

The next day I told my sweet doctor that I would not take that needle to my arm again. And it was over.

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