The pain before the pain

Pine beetles have made their way down from the higher altitudes to infect some of the trees on my land. I’m heartbroken and afraid.

For those of you who don’t know, the mountain pine beetle is an insect that invades evergreen trees–mostly lodgepole, ponderosa, Scotch and limber pines. A pine beetle infestation pretty much guarantees death for a tree. Great swaths of forests in Colorado have been lost to pine beetle infestation in the last several years.

But if you will note the photo, the infected are by far in the minority on my property at the moment. There are hundreds of trees on my land. I have no idea how many will be affected or when.

So, another opportunity to learn to become more comfortable with change.

I heard a podcast last week in which Chloé Cooper Jones, author of the memoir Easy Beauty, was interviewed. Jones was born with a rare condition called sacral agenesis which affects both her stature and gait, and she suffers a lot of physical pain. She also talked about the emotional pain she feels because of being judged, pitied and dismissed for being disabled.

Jones grabbed my attention when she spoke of an idea that I will call “the pain before the pain.” She said she learned from her pediatrician when she was young that the anticipation of pain is its own very real form of pain. And she could manage her pain better if she stopped reacting to the anticipatory pain.

She created a place for herself she calls “the neutral room” where she puts her mind in a place where nothing else can enter. I call this returning to center–the place where we can remain safe while we witness our unhelpful thoughts and false stories.

We can use this centering tool to free ourselves from trepidation about what might come.

Almost 23 years ago, when I was just about to give birth to my daughter, I was deep into the pain before the pain. I had opted for a birth without medication and was fighting the urge to be terrified of labor. In my birth class, I learned a contraction typically lasts about 60-90 seconds, so I started doing 90-second sprints (pregnant woman style) on my treadmill. In this way, I reminded myself the maximum amount of time I would be in pain was only 90 seconds. I didn’t need to extend that by anticipating it. I still use that thought pattern today.

And, yes, labor was painful. And, yes, I did just fine!

Another opportunity: walking the Camino de Santiago last fall. On our longest day, which was around 18 miles, I got to the point where I thought I couldn’t go much further. This was sort of the pain during the pain rather than anticipatory, but there wasn’t actual pain, just some aches and the fear I wasn’t going to make it. So, I decided to become so present all I focused on was putting one foot in front of the other. You hear about people doing this all the time, and it works! I wonder why we generally find it so difficult to do in everyday life.

Lately, I’m learning to notice the difference between the pain before the pain and actual pain. I’m aware that anticipating pain robs me from enjoying the moment I’m in. It steals my power. I realize that sometimes this pre-pain is all there is–no real pain ever comes. But even when it does, why double it by feeling it twice?

Today I will walk on my land with deep gratitude for my beloved trees and focus on the healing they provide for me. I will send some healing vibrations in return. We work together.

And if the day comes that many or all these trees transition to death by pine beetle, I will try feel the experience for exactly what it is at that moment and open myself to what grows afterward.

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Jennifer Reeve

I am  a healing guide, a space holder and a reflector of your sacred light. My aim is to help you connect with your wild, expansive Divine essence so you may freely share your gifts with the world. I offer intuitive readings, non-touch energy healings, spiritual mentoring, embodiment practices, nature connection and sacred ceremony. It would be my honor to guide you toward your expansion.

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