09/18/2012 02:43 pm ET Updated Nov 18, 2012

Pain: A Path Forward

After two major surgeries, pain was a daily ordeal in my life for nearly two years. In this two-part post, I will share the insights that freed me, in case my story may open avenues of relief for you or someone you know.

When I was diagnosed with a life-threatening illness, a strange feeling of gratitude flooded through me, along with sadness and fear. The many goals that had been all-important suddenly seemed trivial. At last, I gave myself "permission" to seek something greater.

The foundational thought that led me out of chronic pain was:

My first priority is to know God.

In a previous blog, I described the meditation practice that helped me change my life. But at the outset, I confronted a barrier: physical pain. When I sat down to meditate, pain was all I could feel; it dominated my consciousness.

Instead of knowing God, all I knew was suffering. I longed to say goodbye to Job and hello to joy. So I began to analyze my pain, like a prisoner looking for the key to a jail cell. This led to a series of insights:

1. My body/mind is my receptor for knowing God.

I had never grasped the notion that the body is a temple. The prospect of death jolted me to awareness. My body/mind is my access to spirit, like a radio that picks up silent frequencies and makes them audible, or an aeolian harp hung in an open window, transforming wind to celestial harmonies. If knowing God was my first priority, then honoring and caring for my body was also my first priority. This decision led to a second insight:

2. Pain is not the same thing as ill health.

The distinction between physical suffering and overall health was a major breakthrough. While pain can be a symptom of serious illness, a simple backache can wreak havoc! Most migraines, stomach aches, toothaches, infected hangnails won't kill you -- just drive you up the wall. I stopped being bullied by my fear of pain. This freed me to recognize a lifelong pattern:

3. I have experienced one pain after another for most of my life.

Even before my surgeries, I rarely enjoyed a pain-free moment. I was blessed with good health, yet I resonated with pain and discomfort. First one joint acted up, then another. Neck, shoulder, stomach -- some part of me was usually mildly, moderately or intensely uncomfortable. Typically, I blocked out the sensation and "just kept going." This led to a transformational thought:

4. The brain circuitry associated with my physical suffering is a habit -- and habits can be broken!

Somehow, pain and irritation had become my baseline state of being. I began to notice that discomfort kept me always uneasy, never fully present. Not long after this awareness, a dream showed me how to step outside my pain cycle and create comfort and well-being.

I'll never forget the moment I sat down to meditate and noticed, Nothing is hurting!

The path to relief which my dream revealed can be found in my next post, "Ending the Pain Cycle." Meanwhile, if you suffer physical pain or irritation that is undermining your peace, consider the insights above. Perhaps it is within your power to change the pattern.

Peace and blessings!

For more by N. E. Marsden, click here.

For more on the spirit, click here.