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Learning How to Hold the Content of Our Pain within the Context of Our Spirit:
A Personal Story of Turning Pain Into Possibility™
by Diane Renz, LPC
Editor's Note from Diane Renz: Through my lifetime of healing I have learned about the alchemy of Turning Pain into Possibility™. In this article I share with you some personal content in order to provide the journey of creating an inviting context that can help offer meaning in the process of pain.
I am in awe of the power and process of the psyche. Our nightly dreams are offered in code, in symbols that we can assimilate and slowly digest for our full integration. Our dreams teach and gently guide us to what we need more of, less of, or is unfinished. If we are able to hold the content of our psyche within the context of our spirit, there becomes the possibility of facing unspeakable pain, as spirit gives the space where meaning can be found.
Unconscious of any immediate need to process unresolved pain, I enter a day that I chose as my “resourcing day”. I take a day to myself, away from work tasks, away from being present to helping others, knowing that my own healing is necessary in order for me to hold any container of healing for another. I find my balance in movement, in nature, in contact with my horse, and in each breath that I choose to be conscious to. I feel a tug from the energies in me that orient to order and time, “I should be following up that email, or finishing that essay, or planning my next workshop”. I gently note this voice, and thank it for how much it contributes to my life, but negotiate with another part of me which needs to be heard; the part that relies less on clocks and calendars, and listens deeply to my own heart.
I take a Mindful run around the reservoir, surrounded by snow-topped mountains, and fresh snow mixing and mingling with the burnt orange and red leaves on the ground, as Fall dances with the encroaching Winter, which offered an early snow in October just to heighten the senses and wake up my appreciation for a Fall I am not ready to let go. My body is fatigued, feeling the pain of my sedentary work the day prior, the missed exercise, the late meal. I send good tidings to this dear body, apologizing for my neglect, register this heaviness, and vow to keep the engine more in tune. My heart is longing to connect where no words will be, and I visit my horse, “Baby Hughy”, a 16 hand, black and white gelded Paint, with one blue eye, who just turned 18. He neighs as I come close, smelling the carrot in my pocket. I hug him, my arms around his big neck, “let’s play Hugh”. My heart is full; the beauty all around, the grace of this moment, how lucky I am, right here, right now, all is good. My contemplative resourcing day brings me to a long luxurious hot shower, a full hot meal, some time with my efforts at learning how to play the Djembe drum, (the use of both hands, finding the rhythm, I know must be good for my brain). I even manage to get in a great meditation and hit the pillow by10pm, a miracle for me, as I am always pushing past midnight and vowing for earlier nights. The perfect day, my soul nourished, I will be ready to pick up the world of calendar and clock when I wake.
My psyche breaks open and invites in a terrifyingly graphic dream. The kind of dream that won’t leave, even in my waking, the texture, taste, sights, and sounds of this dream keeps me cloaked throughout my entire day, half in dream state, half in the linear material world. I am held captive in the feeling tone of trauma, fear, sadness. I feel somehow gipped, want the outcome expected from the investment I made in my experience yesterday. But there is no ignoring this dream, my psyche has other plans. Maybe it is because I am so resourced that now I can process more of long held pain, and then further evolve and open, therefore allowing more of me to show up in the world, operating from the essence of my being, versus any entrapped attitudes, beliefs, or behaviors that are born out of a limited identity from past trauma.
My interest now isn’t so much in the content of my story, but the context that I provide it, which allows the possibility for movement, meaning, and connection to myself and to others.
For background relative to content, briefly, I will fill you in. Over the past three years I experienced a succession of losses. My older sister, at 53, died of ovarian cancer, her husband, six months later died of a heart-attack, and nine months ago, my mother died with a colon cancer diagnosis. I am navigating the meaning of these relationships, how they defined me, what I need to be let go of, and what wisdom must move forward with me. Much earlier in my life, my dear older brother, (he 10 years older than I), committed suicide when I was 7 years old. More, he shot himself in the head, and I found him. A shocking tale. My heart still feels the charge as I write. Of course I have worked on many levels to integrate this trauma, and spent a lifetime healing. I was marked on that day, my life’s trajectory radically shifted. I attribute much of my sensitivity, awareness, empathy, ability to reach into the darker corners of human experience as a guide for others, as, in part, being born out of this tragedy. I have found meaning, purpose, joy, creativity, love, and connection in my life. My return to wholeness has been a dedicated path where I left no stone unturned, and feel very blessed by all that I experience in life, regardless of its seemingly good or bad texture.
So, with some background, I can now tell you my dream. And I smile, feeling continually humbled by the unfolding of healing in its own time frame. When I least expect, I am brought to my knees, there I find myself again, softened, tenderized, so I can show up even more honestly, without the guardedness required when unhealed wounds remain unconscious, and the only focus can be on the need to protect against a light that might illuminate what could be unbearable.
Back to my amazing day off…grace and beauty and blessings…heart open…I am feeling pretty good. The night allows my awareness to go deeper, where my psyche lifts the detritus of old wounds, offering it to the light…. and Slam, I wake nauseous, the dream image of my sister, who has just jumped from a very tall building in New York City, lying in her own blood. I hold her, and she begins to move, to speak. She does not feel any pain, and I remember what I told her the last time I saw her in Hospice, “you are more than this body”. I wake so acutely aware of pain in my body, my heart, my stomach. My sister and I had a difficult relationship, and in my half sleep I begin to speak to her, “I don’t need this now Cathy”. I felt like she was working her own pain out through me. Ah, this may sound rather “out there”, but look at energy medicine, look at the neurobiology of relationship, and epigenetics, and the impact we have on each other through the generations relative to our consciousness. I will leave that there, and trust my own experience. I questioned whether she was trying to heal her own guilt for having sent me to find my brother who had shot himself, (she did not know what I would walk into, but had an intuition of something wrong). The dream details seem to mix my memory of finding my brother in blood, and more recently, watching my sister die.
Is it possible that the exchange of energy and information in my relationship with my sister continues after her death? Whether this is viewed solely as my own memory processing, or in a larger context of relationship beyond the material realm, can be left open to interpretation, and is only relevant to how interpretation provides an individual a frame of meaning that facilitates true integration and healing.
My personal view is that there is room from various perspectives on the different levels of healing involved in any processing of pain, physiological, emotional, psychological, cognitive, cultural, spiritual, and they are evolving simultaneously and in parallel. Regardless of any particular personal belief, this life journey we are each on, requires of us to learn how to turn toward the pain and loss that is inevitable for us all. The way we turn toward pain determines if we will open to life or retreat.
Remember, this is less about the story, and more about how I related to the content through the context I created. Can we grow larger in our capacity to bear which then allows in the entirety of human experience, letting the tragedies allow more availability to the joys? What jewels are we missing by neglecting relationship to pain?
Wearing the cloak of remembered pain, I dragged myself to a yoga class because I needed my body back. In trauma you can literally, “jump out of your skin”, and I felt like I was returning to some unresolved pieces of many traumas, and desperately needed to find ground. My heart heavy, saddened, fearful, I breathed, flowed from one asana to the other, knowing that this contemplative movement would calm my amygdala (limbic center of the brain where fear is sensed), and activate emotion regulation, and serve so many other neurological, physical, emotional and spiritual integrative functions. It is in the final relaxation pose, (the “corpse pose”, how ironic), where I began to breathe with awareness throughout all the energy centers of my body, (chakras). When I got to my heart, I realized that I was trying to get away from the pain of this dream and all it was pointing toward. My breathing was an attempt to bypass the psychological for the spiritual. I wanted my yesterday back. I was adding suffering to the pain by my refusal of the immediate experience. I returned to what was occurring in the present moment, inquisitive about what it might be offering? I breathed in and out of my own heart, and the image of the dear “little” Diane, who was never held and comforted, entered my consciousness in a new and vital way. I held her in my heart, speaking to her, “I am so sorry that you had to see what was too much for little girl eyes, you are an amazing little girl, so bright, intelligent, creative, with a good heart, it is time now for us to move out into the world knowing fully that truth”.
The impact to the brain and psyche of a 7 year old from such trauma leaves the trail of deep woundedness, which covers the light and truth of the essence, with the heaviness of wrong beliefs. Beliefs in defectiveness, insignificance, unworthiness, that can inhibit the full expression of what a psyche, or soul is meant to offer in this world. While I was in the yoga of the “corpse pose”, I felt that the image of me as a little girl in my heart was not something I consciously chose to do, but felt like it was the gift of the dream, and more, like the gift of healing through generations, beyond any understanding of the material world, a gift from my sister. This gift could not have been received if I did not remain present with the qualities of Mindfulness; of open availability to what is, letting go preconceived ideas of how it should be.
My heart broken open, tenderized, not traumatized, but softened, so I can open to the fullness of my spirit, so it might be of benefit to those I meet. Ah, the inherent sanity of this psyche, knowing just when I have expanded enough, so that I am capable to bear, and allow a little more of the pain to be returned to, remembered, and re-informed. There I find my psyche, my soul, whole, and waiting for it to be remembered within the context of Spirit, which is Love. And in this context, each of us can then bear the unbearable, knowing our True identity, which is beyond any limitations of suffering. And our suffering can then be the gateway that leads us back to our core truth.
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About the Author
Diane Renz, MA, LPC is a Psychotherapist in private practice trained in Transpersonal psychology with extensive post graduate studies in Trauma and Somatic psychology. She specializes in anxiety utilizing the latest neuroscience studies that show our capacity for brain change through focused attention to sensations, images, thoughts and emotions. She presents a variety of somatic and mindfulness based practices to help people affect state changes. Her work is fueled both by professional training and personal exploration.
Diane is currently working on a book that compiles her healing journey. She offers counseling and workshops nationwide and is available for speaking engagements on Integrative Healing Paths from both the patient's and clinician's perspective. You can contact her at Diane@YourGatewaytoHealing.com or visit her website at www.YourGatewaytoHealing.com.
Visit her website: YourGatewaytoHealing.com