How to Be a Curious Scientist and Reduce Your Pain

… and anything else that’s bothering you.

March 18, 2018

You’ve tried everything you can think of to feel happy with yourself exactly as you are.  You’ve listened to the podcasts, read the blogs, and taken courses about loving yourself.

But no matter how much you read about somebody else’s successes, you can’t lose the nagging thought that if only you could change this one thing –- be more confident, lose weight, get a facelift or a nose job or a tummy tuck, be less socially awkward, eliminate pain, have a partner, have a child, get athletic and toned –- your life would be how it’s supposed to be.

My ‘if only it would go away I’d be happy’ Issue:

My issue is referred hip pain from a fractured vertebrae and ruptured disc in my spine.  This pain thing has really gotten a grip, and for the last six months, refused to let go.

But there was a point a month or two ago when I experienced a shift.

It happened when I developed a different relationship with the pain.  When I stopped resisting it (as best I could), something changed.  I didn’t fall in love with it, but I started to treat it differently, like I would treat a troubled friend … with gentle kindness.

You know what I’m talking about.  We don’t love EVERYTHING about even our best friends, but we still maintain the friendships.  It’s the same with my relationship to pain — I don’t prefer it, but I am maintaining a friendship with my self and my body in spite of it.

And I’m continuing to work on making peace with my body in the same way I have at times made peace with my imperfect mind, and my definitely imperfect personality.  By not resisting them.

I Became a Curious Scientist

Many years ago I applied the curious scientist approach to a characteristic that was getting me in trouble.  I was wildly impatient!  I decided to explore it rather than hate it.

I spent the better part of a year, off and on, exploring patience.  Before the internet, a huge dictionary sat next to my meditation chair.  (I miss it.)  Every few days or weeks I’d look up patience and do some writing.

I listed synonyms and antonyms and asked myself questions.  How would my life be different if I was patient?  How would I behave?  How would I feel?   How does my life look now when I’m not patient?  How does it feel?  How effective am I when I’m impatient?

THE KEY:

Don’t try to get rid of something. 

Work on understanding it — the pros and cons of it.  Make friends with it, because bullying it away doesn’t work.

After a year or so of my casual exploration, my son came home from school with a paper.  It was a clown holding several balloons.  His task was to identify people he knew and put their name in the balloon with a personality characteristic.

He said his dad was kind, his gerbil was playful, and, wait for it … he said I was patient!

So even though I still haven’t mastered it – as anyone who knows me will happily high-five – once I stopped guilting myself, I developed a more workable relationship with impatience … not perfect, but improved.

THE TRICK: 

Replace resistance with curiosity, and then do the next right thing.  

This is not a passive exercise.  Curiosity must be followed by an action.

Here’s the action I took with the pain situation.  Instead of continuing to ruminate about it, imagining a future in a wheelchair, and dreading my upcoming appointment with the neurosurgeon, I developed a list of all the scary unanswered questions I had about my condition.  I got some help from my physical therapy guy and a friend to make sure it was complete.  I sent the list in an email to the neurosurgeon’s office so he could review it before the next appointment.

From taking that one small step I stopped feeling hopeless and furiously frustrated.  I started to feel a tenderness toward my body that wasn’t there before.

Fear and resistance to the pain had been making it worse.

PLEASE DO THIS:

  1. Identify some part of you that you resist or hold in contempt or even just feel distanced from.  Whatever it is you’ve decided is unacceptable.
  2. Make a decision to become a curious scientist.  Be willing to look at it very, very closely, without judgment.  Make a commitment to explore it with openness, willingness and curiosity.  Willingness means you’re even open to your current unwillingness!
  3. Doing this will take you one step in the direction of what you want. Once you’ve dropped the resistance and sparked your own interest, I can almost guarantee that the next step, the next right thing, will show up.  Please read that last line again.  It’s important!

BONUS: 

Openness, willingness and curiosity almost always lead to friendship, whether it’s with a person, a situation, or a characteristic.

I talked about this idea in an earlier post.   It’s about the difference between primary pain and secondary pain.  Secondary pain is resistance to the primary pain, and it’s self-inflicted.  You can read about it here.

I’d love to hear your thoughts and experiences on how you’re handling the challenges you’ve identified.  Please comment below.

If you enjoyed this you can subscribe to future issues here (and I promise you won’t get lots of other stuff, just a welcome letter and one free gift), or if you know someone you think might benefit from viewing their discomfort in a different way, please pass this on!

Much love,

2 comments

  1. Ryan Sarti says:

    What a great post. Here are some of the really great things I got from this one:
    1. Improvement NOT perfection. Perfection is a moving target. You get tired and frustrated chasing somethign you’ll never catch. But improvement is different. Move towards X and get to X. Win! Move towards Y, get Y, Win!. No one gets tired of winning but every gets tired of losing.
    2. Bullying something NEVER works. Every nail a hammer drives is not straight or graceful. And driving nails is arduous.
    3. Fighting something is tiresome. In Aikido, a different kind of martial art, one uses your opponent’s momentum and rather than oppose, you redirect. Much more graceful than bullying or fighting. And that takes Patience.

    Your post really helped me start today with a different horizon. Thanks!

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