By 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?
Convergence 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.