Pain as our greatest teacher: An interview with author Peter Bedard

Pain as our greatest teacher: An interview with author Peter Bedard

By Donna Gregory Burch

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Donna Gregory Burch

Last month, I posted an image on my Facebook page about how chronic illness can be a catalyst for personal growth. I had a reader reply back (and I’m paraphrasing), “What could I possibly learn from living in this much pain every day? How is that making me a better person?”

I know how she feels because I’ve struggled with those very same questions. It can be challenging to find the lessons in chronic pain, but they are there if we search hard enough. Pain can show us so much about ourselves – if we dare to look.

A few weeks ago I stumbled across author and healer Peter Bedard and his new book, “Convergence Healing: Healing Pain with Energetic Love.” As a teenager, Peter was involved in a hit-and-run crash, which caused years of chronic physical and emotional pain. But as he traversed the medical system and his own heart and mind, he discovered that pain can be our greatest teacher.

Peter’s philosophy of seeing pain as a messenger spoke to me, and hopefully our interview below will resonate with you, too.

Your journey began with a vehicle accident and a near-death experience when you were a teenager. Can you tell us what happened?

Well, that’s a long story so I’ll keep it as concise as possible. I was driving home late at night feeling angry that my parents wouldn’t let me go to a party that I wanted to go to. I was an overly responsible kid, and it upset me that they didn’t trust me to go to a party. Besides, I was only a few months shy of 18, and I wanted to spread my wings.

I was riding my Motobecane bicycle, sort of a cross between a bicycle and a moped, and as I turned into a curve a car came up behind me, bumped my back tire and pushed me into the back of a parked semi-truck.

I jumped out of my body just before impacting the semi-truck and watched as I hit the truck, and my body bounced out into the street. I knew in that moment that my chosen career as a dancer was never to be, and I was quite aware that I was dead. Yet, I felt no pain, and more than anything I was simply observing things.

The car drove away, and I noticed what a beautiful night it was. The next moment I was spiraling down a tunnel and landed in the most beautiful place I have ever experienced. The colors were intense, and I felt so at peace, happy, joyous, blissful …Words can’t describe how amazing the experience of death actually is. I jokingly share, yet I’m very serious, that death is the most amazing thing that has ever happened to me. I highly recommend it!

Eventually, I was told that I wasn’t supposed to be there, wherever “there” was, and my next memory was floating back above my body. This time, though, two emergency medical technicians were there, and one was checking my vitals while the other one was pulling a gurney out of the back of an ambulance. I remember thinking that this was how ghosts happened because I did not want to go back into my body!

You lived in a lot of emotional and physical pain for many years following your accident. What was your life like during that time?

Life after my accident was a constant cascade of pain. The accident itself shattered my left knee, split open my right wrist. I lost all the nerves in my right hand, cracked five vertebrae and had undiagnosed brain damage. As time passed I had to learn how to walk again, developed severe sciatica, arthritis, asthma, bronchitis, chronic allergies, major gut issues and more as well as anxiety and depression. Life was extremely painful not only physically but spiritually and emotionally.

At some point, you began to view your pain differently. How did that transition occur? Was there anything in particular that caused the shift?  

I suffered for a long time. Western medicine kept offering more drugs and surgery that “might” help me feel better. I knew people who relied on drugs and had to keep increasing their dosage or take more drugs to simply survive, and I didn’t want that so I simply disconnected from the pain. This brought a whole other problem in my life because I was disassociating from my body.

After a particularly debilitating episode of sciatica I crawled into an acupuncturist office (literally) and actually walked out. I started to see that facing the pain could teach me things, and that if I treated it with lovingkindness, it would surprisingly go down or disappear altogether.

Eventually, I started to befriend my pain, treat it with loving respect and even ask it what it needed to heal. The shift was gradual, but the more I loved my pain, the more it let go.

What is Convergence Healing? And how is it helpful to someone living with chronic pain?

Peter Bedard and book 2

Peter Bedard and his new book, Convergence Healing, Healing Pain with Energetic Love

Displaying image3.JPGDisplaying image3.JPGConvergence Healing is a 10-step process that I created to heal myself. Eventually, I started to incorporate the learnings from my master’s degree with this trial-by-error process, and I refined it into a simple and doable plan for creating wellness. The process addresses all forms of pain whether it is physical, emotional or spiritual. It allows the individual to come up with a plan for healing that is organic to their needs and directed by the pain itself.

Think of it this way: When a 17 year old messes up, everyone is telling them what they need to do in order to fix the problem. Rarely does anyone actually ask the kid how they want to fix the problem. The Convergence Healing process is about going to that part that is in pain, loving it and letting it lead the way.

It is helpful because the decisions come from a place deep within us, and the choices about what to do or how to heal come from an authentic place. All wounding is experienced on all levels of who we are. My athlete with a broken knee is struggling on the thought (mind) level as she is panicked and fearful about her financial future and how her team is going to survive the season. On the physical (body) level, she is obviously in pain as her injuries may require surgery or several months of rehab. On the emotional (spirit) level, her heart is broken, like mine was, that she may never get to play her sport again.

It is for this reason that I encourage my clients to create a holistic cocktail of healing with ingredients from each of these categories (mind/body/spirit) that specifically addresses their needs and wellness.

Chapter 2 of your book opens with “Pain is the greatest teacher you will ever have.” What are some of the lessons we can learn from pain?

The lessons that pain has to offer us are individual to each of us. Sometimes our greatest wounds are a calling to live an even more powerful life or to simply live the life we were meant to live. I once had a client who was in deep emotional pain who had developed an addiction to pain medication. For her, the pain was a calling to live the life she was meant to live. Her entire life had been lived for everyone else, and the pain was sort of a messenger asking her to live her life. She had been living out the script that society and her parents had written for her. She never wanted to be married, but she was. She never wanted kids, but she had several. She never wanted to be a lawyer, but she was one of the top lawyers in her region. She wanted to be an artist and travel the world. The pain was, as she put it, “… the 2×4 that God used to hit her over the head and force her to live the life she wanted.”

Pain transforms us. The cutting loss of a child drives us to fight for children’s rights. The abuse of an attacker inspires us to fight for legislation protecting gender freedom. Pain is often our most powerful and important teacher, and it is almost always a calling to live a life more evolved, loving and compassionate.

You’re a certified hypnotist. How can hypnosis be helpful for chronic pain?

I use hypnosis as well as neuro-linguistic programming (NLP), tapping, guided imagery, shamanistic healing and even simple career coaching in my practice. Hypnosis is a process that can help us tune into our highest self. It assists us in creating experiences that are in alignment with our goals, and it is an extremely effective way to discipline the brain and harness the healing powers of the mind. We can use hypnosis to lessen the effects that pain has on us, literally to dial it down, as well as to learn how to send different signals (as compared to pain signals) to the body.

You suggest using meditation as a tool for managing pain. How is meditation beneficial?

Meditation helps us to discipline our brains. Often the experience of pain can hijack us and take over our minds. The car of pain pulls up, and we jump into it so that it is then driving us. Meditation can help us get back into the throne of our heart where we make decisions from a place of loving compassion and not habituated knee-jerk responses. It helps us move from being out of control to living in an energy of governance.

In your book, you talk a lot about turning toward your pain, befriending your pain and seeing it as a messenger. Most of us (myself included) are constantly fighting it and just want it to go away! Why is it important to make peace w/ our pain, and what are the steps for doing that?

Have you ever heard of the quote from Carl Jung, “What you resist persists”? Well, the more we beat up our pain, punish it, make it wrong and bad, be embarrassed by it or ashamed of it, the more powerful it grows.

Think of it this way: If I was your invisible friend called Pain, and you beat me up constantly, the more you abused me, the more I fight back and cause you more pain. The 10 steps I have discovered to heal my pain can help you heal yours.

You still live with physical pain. What’s your best advice for managing it?

Yes, it sucks! My body was pretty destroyed, and I spent years being lost in the world with no life purpose. I have lived with pain in some form my entire adult life. I’m finally breaking through the last bit of chronic pain, and I am so grateful for that.

The most powerful advice I can give you is to listen to your pain, love it, be kind to it, speak to it with patience, actually hear what it has to say, witness it and create your own “healing cocktail” for transforming it.

*******

For more information on Peter Bedard and his book, “Convergence Healing,” visit convergencehealing.com.  The book is available for purchase online and in bookstores through Simon & Schuster, Amazon and Barnes & Noble.

Donna Gregory Burch was diagnosed with fibromyalgia in 2014 after several years of unexplained pain, fatigue and other symptoms. She covers news, treatments, research and practical tips for living better with fibromyalgia on her blog, FedUpwithFatigue.com. Donna is an award-winning journalist whose work has appeared online and in newspapers and magazines throughout Virginia, Delaware and Pennsylvania. She lives in Delaware with her husband and their many fur babies.

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Authored by: Donna Gregory Burch

There are 5 comments for this article
  1. Dave at 8:42 am

    I enjoyed reading this book and found it uplifting, sincere, and insightful. The author understands that pain is more then physical and that people have a lot of mental and spiritual abiilities that they dont always put to full use when they have pain.
    The author would make an exceptional pain coach and even though I found some of his ideas a little pop psychologyish i can understand that he wants to appeal to a wide audience instead of nerds like me.

  2. Danny at 9:54 am

    I can appreciate what is being suggested by Mr. Bedard, at least in terms of doing whatever one can to “accept” the hand that’s been dealt. However, the approach he’s suggesting pain sufferers should use is just like every other one that is offered: It’s not for everyone.

    There is an enormous variety of types of “Chronic, intractable pain” and just as many causes of these suffering. As for me, the electrocution caused several musculoskeletal injuries as well as brain damage that causes, among several other things, severe head pain. I spent years searching for a “cure”, only to realize that my life has been reduced to spending 75-80% of the time in my dark, quiet “pain room”.

    I tried acupuncture for a few years until the acupuncturist realized that it wasn’t working. I did hypnosis for 18 months, using 2 hypnotists. I didn’t find any relief. When “meditation” is suggested, I have always done what, in my opinion, is the best form of meditation: I pray. I pray intensely, during the many hours I spend alone in my pain room. I do find comfort in prayer, but I don’t get pain relief. (Using prayer is another discussion altogether.) I’ve even used holistic treatments, diet and exercise (so different from my athletic days up to the date of my accident)

    I’m not trying to dismiss what is being offered here. I’m just making the point that, while this approach may be helpful for some, it’s not going to work for everyone. And for those of us for whom it doesn’t work, it doesn’t mean that we are doing something wrong or that we aren’t trying hard enough. I will say that I have a real problem with this final paragraph:
    “ The most powerful advice I can give you is to listen to your pain, love it, be kind to it, speak to it with patience, actually hear what it has to say, witness it and create your own “healing cocktail” for transforming it.”
    I’ve spent 25+ years with my pain. I KNOW my pain, inside and out. I’ll never love it or be kind to it. My pain is insidious, evil, and has completely destroyed my life. This approach that’s being suggested? It has not and will not help me. However, I hope and pray that it does work for others. ANYTHING that can help someone with severe pain, whether it’s pharmaceutical, holistic or whatever, is fine by me.

  3. cindy deim at 4:25 pm

    I do believe in managing pain with meditation and many of the other things he talks about. Personally. I meditate, do exercise and walk. This does not take my pain away but it keeps me mobile, which I think is very important. I do use pain medication although I’m concerned with the new trend that is happening with doctors, insurance and the DEA.
    I think for some people pain doesn’t go away and you have to learn to live with it. And I do mean live. I think having compassion for your own body is paramount. Gratitude and have some kind of spiritual practice helps as well.
    As to what we learn. We all learn something different. For my self I have learned to more compassionate with myself and others. It’s hard to have a vocabulary for what pain teaches a person. I think I’m a better person.

  4. Lisa Davis Budzinski at 11:48 am

    As a chronic pain patient and the VP of CPSFoundation, I agree with the power of positivity and not viewing our pain as the enemy. Being in a constant fighting stance against pain is very exhausting. Yes I take pharma meds but I also add supplementals, bio-identical hormones, music, meditation, love of friends and family and knowing exactly how Central Pain Syndrome, post stroke, affects my body. Listening to our bodies and which pain is what with intractable pain is of the utmost importance. Mindfulness is paying attention to it and then soothing it through some means. I also believe activating my serotonin and endorphin levels help just as much whether it is just by laughter.
    Thank you Donna and Peter for all the work you are doing in the pain community.

  5. Michael R. Vogel at 5:41 am

    Many hundreds of unique methodology have been designed and many are successful, however, there are those of us that, in spite of trying many avenues of recovery, are not able to find relief. Even with powerful medications, we find ourselves lost in intractable pain every hour of every day. Each individual of course has different levels or intensity of pain, many of which are so intense it leaves us grasping at everything in an attempt to just lesson the severity of our pain. The author in this article spoke about the physical, mental, and spiritual aspects of pain. I agree on this point but addressing pain as he suggests seems ridiculous to me and others I’ve spoken to about this article. It leaves us thinking that the pain we face every hour must be much more intense or perhaps it is a matter of tolerance to the pain.

    I have personally tried Western medicine with very little relief. I’ve tried Eastern medicine in a multitude of unique disciplines including meditation, acupuncture, massage, and yoga to no avail. To add insult to injury, the older I get the more varied my pain persists. I know this sounds like a gripe session about my pain but I’ve lived with such pain for 36 years now and nothing has done more than reduce the severity.

    I agree with the author in terms of our pain teaching us something, but the instruction I have personally heard loud and clear is that nothing new under the sun will help. Perhaps I have transcended above ever finding relief and have become contented with my life of pain despite having never found relief in the traditional sense. Don’t get me wrong, I have experienced every aspect of pain from despair, anguish, depression, and surrender and have kept the faith. I have found some semblance of peace amid the strife of living with restrictions and through my faith discovered that pain should not define me no matter what may come. We crucify ourselves between two thieves, the Pain of today and the Fear of tomorrow.

    I firmly believe that one might never find any pain relief and yet we can learn to be still and be content with who I am, my situation, and my limitations and strive to make every day about helping others and not about pain. I suppose that I am teaching to take your eyes off yourselves and look toward others, putting their problems above your own, and help them. Truly this is a solution to finding true peace amid the strife of living with pain.

    Thank you for taking the time to read this. If I can help you find peace and contentment please let me know.

    Michael
    alphatheos@charter.net