I’m going to start with this quote by Nikki Banas: “Hope. If you only carry one thing throughout your entire life, let it be hope. Let it be hope that better things are always ahead. Let it be hope that you can get through even the toughest of times. Let it be hope that you are stronger than any challenge that comes your way. Let it be hope that you’re exactly where you are meant to be right now, and that you’re on the path to where you’re meant to be. Because during these times, hope will be the very thing that carries you through.
It’s January. It’s time for new beginnings and a clean slate. It’s time to set goals for the new year, to dream big, and to start fresh. It’s January. Let’s leave our mistakes behind, and pretend we can reinvent ourselves to be bigger, better, more. Except, if you’re in pain. If your pain is your dark passenger that never leaves, it can make this time of the year excruciating. It marks another year past. Another year of torture ahead. If January just sucks for you for these very reasons, I want you to know you are not alone today.
One of my strongest skills as a physician is the effort I make of imagining myself in my patient’s shoes. I don’t intimately understand their physical or emotional pain of course, but I try to see the world through my patient’s eyes. For this reason, there is not a Christmas nor a New Year’s that pass that I do not think of what these holidays mean to you guys who suffer from chronic pain. Who are lonely, who are isolated, frightened, and perhaps without hope. The social benchmarks highlight the things we see as missing in our lives.
Let’s discuss a giant elephant in the room today: Facing another year in pain. How can you possibly do it? It’s especially difficult to face New Years, as it follows just a few days after the Holidays. Christmas or Hanukkah can be enormously stressful. We perceive these holidays as having to be perfect. We place tremendous pressure on ourselves to deliver the perfect meals, give the perfect gifts, not to upset or slight any family members, and to be happy.
I like to say that the holidays is always greener on the other side of the fence. Everyone on Facebook makes it seem that their holidays are perfect. We don’t see the stress. We don’t see the hurt, and the fights, and the family fights, and the upsets and the loneliness. We don’t see those moments where we miss someone who died around the holidays. Or the moments where people in pain feel immense pressure to slap a smile on and for once, for once, not be a drag on what is supposed to be a happy time. And that is just the holidays.
New Year comes next. For all the reasons I mentioned, this is such a tough time too. So, the question is, how do you navigate this tricky time? It doesn’t matter what exact challenges you are currently facing. Perhaps you feel unsupported. Maybe you feel guilty because you are not the child, parent, or friend you want to be. Maybe you feel cheated because the life you are living is not the life you were meant to have.
Two of my life lessons came from two of my earliest mentors. The first was a chiropractor who helped my family to immigrate from South Africa. He was famous for his “health weeks”. Desperately sick people would come to him from all over the world to be healed from all sorts of dire conditions, like terminal cancer. He placed a special emphasis on healing the patient by identifying and neutralizing past emotional stress. As a young student, I often got to sit in on his classes. I remember one man with severe depression, sitting through his class with his head bowed. He grew up an orphan, and his only companion was his dog, a rescue. His beloved dog was hit by a car when he was in his twenties. He witnessed it. Shortly after, his clinical depression started. When asked to discuss his trauma, he would weep. “My dog died. My dog died.” He was caught in an endless loop of emotional pain he could not break out of. One day, my mentor planted his hands in front of the man on the table. He leaned down and looked the patient in his eyes. With great certainty, firmness, and gentleness, he stated: “The dog is dead.” The patient shrunk away. My mentor did not back off. He repeated his words: “The dog is dead.” He paused. “Can your suffering bring him back?” The man whispered, “no.” “Do you want to live?” “Yes.”
It was a powerful moment of learning for me. This doctor had the guts to confront the patient in his greatest moment of pain. He had the guts to suggest to the patient that the past is useless, and the future the only way out of pain. The only way to salvation.
The second mentor was Dr. Wayne Dyer, a famous author, and spiritual guru. I was in an audience one day when he talked about the past, the present, and the future. As an example, he used the children’s song, “Row Your Beat.”
Row, row, row your boat
Gently down the stream
Merrily merrily merrily merrily
Life is but a dream
Here was his lesson: row, row. Keep going. Every day is like rowing forward. You cannot row backward.
Gently. Stop blaming yourself. Stop beating yourself up. Be gentle with yourself.
Down the stream. Not up. Don’t fight, don’t look back. The past, like the weight behind the boat, cannot propel the boat. The way is forward. Let the stream of life take you, and gently row along.
I will never forget those powerful lessons. In your life, there’s much you cannot control. Heartbreak, trauma, physical pain. We all lose people we love to death eventually. In fact, there are only three things you have control over in this world. Here they are:
Your perceptions, your decisions, and your actions.
Today, we are delving into perceptions. Let’s talk about that. It is human nature to focus on the negative, or pain. Why is that? Pain threatens our existence. So, our brain is designed to be made aware of it constantly. As a result, we often focus on the negative. Unfortunately, like any asset, the negative will eat us from the inside. However, like any acid, you neutralize it by adding alkaline, by adding positive. Every emotion has a frequency. These frequencies are either low frequencies, like shame and guilt, or high frequencies, like love. The highest vibrating emotion is gratitude. If you are able to, try to find gratitude in your daily existence. For every loss, try to think of things you have gained. Does this seem hard? The universe is divinely balanced. If you perceive that something is only negative, you have not yet found the positive. Today, you are a mom or a dad or a husband or a partner or a wife. You are a son or daughter. Chances are, you are loved. You. You, in pain. You, in bed. You, in a wheelchair. You are loved.
Perhaps your pain taught you humility. Perhaps it taught you gratitude for simple moments others take for granted. It’s an extensive near-death experience, and it will change you for better, and for worse. Have you found the better parts? You live the worse every day.
Today, your tools may be limited. It’s hard to read when you’re in pain. It’s hard to hang out with friends. It’s hard to show affection, and it’s certainly hard to hope. However, while you may not be able to change your pain today, you certainly can change your mind. Here is a useful and powerful exercise to change your vibration, which makes it easy to find hope.
Finding hope is the first step towards healing. It is so incredibly important. If you are able to, during the part of your day when you have the lowest pain, stand on your knees. If you physically cannot do this, simply bow your head. Close your eyes. No matter what you believe, whether you are religious or not – humble yourself in front of the universe. Then, start listing things you are grateful for. Start small. Heat. Cold. A roof over your head. Food. A telephone. Technology. Slowly widen your circle, and be grateful for the tree outside of your window. Your cat or dog. Then, go bigger. Be grateful for your loved ones. Life. Your warrior spirit. The last hug you gave or received. As soon as tears come into your eyes, you have reached your optimum vibration. This is a magical window, a golden window, where you are closest to your source. Use this moment to ask for guidance. To ask for help. To ask for hope. To ask for the will to continue to fight. You are alive. You are here. It’s for a reason. Don’t you give up. Yes, this is your year. This year is fresh and new and you have every right to all the hope and promises it brings. This year belongs to you just as much as it belongs to everyone else. Just as much as it belongs to those who are not in daily pain. You are not forgotten. You are loved. I want to end with a final quote:
“There is nothing your mortal body can experience that your immortal soul can’t love.”
-Dr. John FD Martini