The war between Negative vs. Positive
I am not an author, nor am I a professional hiker. I have never written a book or hiked any distance more than twenty miles, which I did over 20 years ago. If you are expecting this book to be either a medical, technical dissertation, or a flowery, well written novel, you're wrong, and you should get yourself ready for something very different...
My mom is an Alzheimer's patient. She's inspirational to me because even though she's in a nursing home, when I visit her, her heart and spirit are still there. Even though she has lost her ability and will to learn new things, she still has her good days and routines. It taught me to appreciate everything you have, especially your mind and your soul. When you see somebody who has lost one of those things you suddenly realize how lucky and blessed you are to have both.
When you meet people who are in chronic pain, you'll see people who have lost their soul, their original spirit, their heart, and their identity. They have lost out to the losses and the negative side of pain. They've become very sad and depressed. Wouldn't you become that way if suddenly you looked up and noticed that the person you used to be, the vibrant, energetic, productive and happy soul you used to be, no longer was there. You've replaced your personality with an angry, bitter, depressed personality who is incapable of ever having a good day. Remember though, the soul, the spirit, is pure energy. This is not just my opinion or the opinion of metaphysics any longer, it has been studied by scientists. These researchers weren't even looking for this conclusion. They didn't set out to study the mind. They were studying physics.
They concluded in theory that we have the ability to attract towards us whatever it is that we need and this is done through deep thought tied to deep emotions. We have already discussed this in other chapters and in the chapter of Prayer, Fear versus Strength, but it bears repeating because if we keep denying our negativity or refusing to open our minds to change the way we think, we will be forever doomed to keep attracting negative toward ourselves and allowing it into our lives, especially if you are someone in pain. Our situation will continue to deteriorate. We will become further depressed and resigned to a bitter, self-imprisoning existence. This is human nature at its best.
So I am again aiming this information at those who truly want out of the negative pain continuum. You must want to grasp who you used to be, not physically, but spiritually. With a chronic pain affliction, it would be impossible to be who you used to be, physically. You must be willing to accept that you're not right this time, that you're over your head on this. You must accept that your current thinking, planning and your way of making decisions, isn't working. I am speaking to those of you who are not happy, productive, or living up to your potential. I am also speaking from experience. I hope that my “Walk” is proof, that once the heart and mind have surrendered, once they have forgiven the past, and once they begin to believe in their ability to be positive amazing things begin to happen and a snowballing effect takes place.
Like a house of cards your negativity, your anger, your bitterness and your bleak vision of the future can begin to change and now you can start to spot the minor miracles that have been around you this whole time but were impossible to see. You have been blinded by the negative, evil illusion of pain. This is why no one but you can change. The soul takes on whatever it is that we present it with. We are what we think. This used to be purely a spiritual discussion and then, during the 60's became a slogan on a bumper sticker called “think positive”. Many people began to tout the virtues of thinking positively and this practice became the fad of the times quickly diminished by cynics who were right in saying “if only it were that easy.”
It's not that easy. Because we are not just what we think, we are also what we feel. Our subconscious is at work beneath the surface, processing our minds received information, looking for the underlying emotions that are tied to it, and, depending on the importance, the deepness of the emotion, sends the thought and the feeling on to our “heart and soul” where it is adopted. It is now added to our mix, our recipe of what makes us who we are. As we live and experience and act on decisions, we slowly head in the direction of these thoughts, emotions and circumstances. Then, minor miracles are presented to us at certain intersections. Our focus is now on those things we need to bring about the change necessary to complete the thought and emotions.
If this seems confusing, allow me to cite some examples:
All along my walks I was presented with many experiences. There were always decisions to make, people to meet and choices to decide that could drastically affect the safety and security of my being in Nature, my outdoor living experience, and this could have been cause for worry, fear and doubt. I had, at the point of these walks, already evolved beyond the negative, so I was approaching this adventure in a very positive way.
Like the child, I was an eight-year-old, out for a small walk down the lane, observing and appreciating every single experience. There were minor adventures layered within the larger adventures leading to the higher goal which led to the highest goal. My concentration was keen in detail in tune with the beauty and positive energy of God's earth and I looked forward to the next one with the same enthusiasm and enjoyment of that child. I smiled a lot and enjoyed hanging out with kids because sometimes I felt like they were the only ones I could relate to, and I felt they saw me as one of them. You see, after changing over to the positive side of the Pain Cycle, which took place in March of 2003, I had been evolving in that direction. At the beginning of this changeover there were many tests and setbacks. My journey through surrender, forgiveness, and belief was complete, but my subconscious was at the start of this evolution and so the journey had begun, but I was being presented with many trials of this newfound philosophy. For example, I had a major setback in February 2005, when I thought I was becoming paralyzed. It turned out to be nerve problems.
In April of 2005, I had begun taking longer walks, walking around my neighborhood, to hiking around Boston, to logging five to seven miles a day. Not only had I learned my physical and emotional therapy well, but my dream of walking a lot was starting to take hold. My body, mind and spirit were beginning to all get in line behind that dream, that emotion, and I thought that I was lucky to be walking, that it was great to be living a miracle not a tragedy. Now the coincidences, the minor miracles, the important intersections of happenstance, began to present themselves, and believe me, I took advantage of every one of them. An example of this was my pool therapy.
I was being referred to physical therapy to have some gentle massage done, as the stretching and strengthening therapy I had been receiving was proving to be too much for my extremely fragile muscles. I began the massages, which in themselves turned out to be a miracle, considering how skeptical I was about the decision to try something called “gentle massage”. It seems that the therapists at the hospital I was attending were trying to start a pool therapy class through the local YMCA and were looking to fill their roster with patients whose insurance would cover it and were signing up volunteers. I was at this point in a positive frame of mind and accepted to be part of this program to “help them out”. This small insignificant decision turned out to be the key turning point in my life at this juncture. You see, it turns out that my muscles in my back was so fragile, that trying to strengthening them in gravity was causing them to flare up after each workout, so my therapy was causing harm and getting nowhere. The pool, which no one had thought to try, was the key to relieving the gravitational weight and allowed me to start from further back, slowly developing and strengthening the subtle, underlying, small muscle groups that had been the cause of much of my pain. If it wasn't for that minor, circumstantial decision to join this class, I never would have been able to build up the walking muscles in order to reach the seven mile mark which was key to longevity and distance walking. Call it fate, call circumstance, call it a minor miracle, or divine Providence, call it what you will, I was there for it and it happened and it changed the course of my life and led to walking over 3000 miles over nine months. Imagine now what would've happened if I wasn't in such a positive mindset. If I had just said “No, I don't feel like trying something new, especially something as minor as gentle massage! If I hadn't accepted to “help out” by joining the pool program. I wouldn't have known that there was an answer to my walking problem. I never would have met the therapist who turned my life around. I never would have found my way out of the Pain Cycle. My depression would have continued and my negativity would have maintained, churning out more and more negative experiences. I never would've known another way.
Another thing I think about a lot is how things were before this epiphany. I think of how the negatives were presenting themselves and how I would choose them. Partly from being in pain, partly from being tired, partly from wanting someone to see my pain, to understand me, to validate me. These wants, which became my needs, led to some very bad decisions. They surrounded me like circling wagons slowly closing me in. I began to make these choices that allowed more of that in. Without knowing it I was not only allowing myself a negative path, I was drowning in it. It seemed like every time the phone would ring, it was something else negative. Well, no wonder! Did I have any good seed sown? Over that past three year period, I had managed to concentrate on and foster bad stuff. Who could blame me?
Imagine, your world is going crazy, you're lost, you don't even know who you are anymore. No one has believed you for such a long time and yet, we're supposed to think positively? You're supposed to be able to see how lucky you are? Your life isn't a matter of choosing negativity, it has become negativity. I have since learned that part of this is the Law of Attraction and part of it is the Butterfly Effect.
The Law of Attraction states, in general, that you attract what you think, what you feel in your soul. There is actual scientific studies showing that when you think of a thought that has a lot of emotion behind it, molecules begin forming and working their way toward you. It happens on a subatomic level and it happens slowly but it definitely happens. Our self talk, the conversations we have in our mind, and more subtly, in our hearts, affects how things form in front of us. Again, this is science not metaphysical theory. Look it up. I've learned this and seen it on my “Walks”.
Remember, we create what we fear, but we also create what we love. When you do things from love it will always turn out positive, even though there may be instances of negativity involved. So, in essence you have to learn to filter the negatives presented to us, the messages we receive from others, and from our own minds. Learn to filter them through the Love filter, or simply negate them by saying “Stop that!” This takes training and practice. Love is appreciation. Loving something is never taking it for granted, never adding negativity to it, never preceding or following it with fear or doubt.
People who are still on the negative side of the Pain Cycle are usually very cynical, skeptical, and mistrusting. The hardest thing about the clinic visits in the beginning of the walks, were the very tragic stories I'd sit and listen to. Story after story of very bad things happening to very good people. This affected me tremendously as I would leave these visits with a certain depression and high pain level or sensitivity. Everyone in pain knows that when you talk about your pain a lot, or when you leave the doctor's office after discussing your pain for forty five minutes, your pain sensitivity is way up. Your Pain Amplifier is set to high.
How was I supposed to keep these visits up without having them bring me back into the dark side of pain? I was in a very real way, worried that I wouldn't be able to continue the visits. Then, I learned to use negation to my favor. I learned to hear these stories, to understand them, to empathize with the patients, but as soon as I felt it entering my heart, I would say to myself, “Stop that!”, I don't believe in that. I will not allow it to enter!” It seems too simple, but it worked, it worked every time, and it allowed me to be able to sit and listen to people in pain and not have it affect my mood, my attitude, or essentially my “Walk”.
Long-distance walking is an extreme mental game. In order to accomplish 30 to 40 miles per day you must keep your mind busy, keep concentrating on something else. Negation, fear and doubt, can cancel positive thoughts, but you can see how it can be used to negate the negativity also. You see, the power of your belief is unbiased. It is a simple, yet powerful energy at your disposal. How you feel is most important to how this energy acts on your life.
So hopefully, you will learn to understand the power of what you say to yourself and of what others say to you. You learn to understand how to use negation as an armament against negativity. Enough cannot be said of the importance of this chapter. The world around you can be a fertile garden of negative, even subliminally negative statements. The news, television in general, radio, newspapers, advertising, doctors, therapists, even friends and family, can make seemingly harmless statements that are loaded with negativity. Arm yourself by constantly saying in your mind, “no fear, no doubt, no ignorance!” Have confidence.
Hopefully, the “Walk” proved that this is all true. I walked with confidence and trust. I had only two negative things happen to me in 2400 miles over nine months. An interesting fact of attitude is, most of the time, I was so
tired, so fatigued, that my thoughts were of complete surrender. “Go ahead and steal my stuff, I'm tired of pulling it anyways!” I would think, or, “Gee, a snake might attack me, oh well, I'm too tired to even care what he does.” It seems that when you stop fighting upstream, and just go with the flow, too tired and too fatigued to care about danger, it doesn't happen.
In conclusion, if you really want out of this cycle, and you seriously want to learn to control your pain and put it into the background of your life, you must commit to learning to spot negativity. Learn to negate. You must say to yourself , “I don't want to be this way! I am not this way! I will not accept this!” Start becoming active. Slow and easy at first, but determined. Start understanding the negatives surrounding you.
This may include:
Your medical situation. Your doctor visits and your medical files. Start learning the terms, the diagnoses, and prognoses if they are available. If not, get them! Approach your medical ordeals clinically, as though you were a doctor working on someone else's case. You should earn your own Ph.D. in your own afflictions. Be very diplomatic about this knowledge when dealing with professionals. They sometimes don't want a partner, especially a patient. Learn to listen, take notes, and go home and study. If your doctor is the type who is threatened by your learning, don't share it with him. Switch doctors if you can, or ally with a staff member who understands your wanting this knowledge.
Your family and friends. Understand their situation and remember, they're going through their own cycle. Understand that the one they love is hurt. The one they love has changed, and they miss you. They don't want to see you suffering and they feel helpless and afraid. Unfortunately, as humans, we don't express our true emotions the right way. They end up coming out as negative things. For example; concern = worry, worry = anger,
anger = bitterness. This means that if a loved one cares about you and is worried about you, by the time they try to say what's on their mind, is verbalized as anger and bitterness. Over time, this is devastating to our relationships with people, which further aids us in “cutting them off”, a common symptom of pain suffering.
Your fears. Anything you don't understand you fear. Learn about them and take away their power!
Your past. Let it go! Stop looking for justice. This will only tie you to a negative situation and keep you from moving forward in a positive direction. It can interfere with your true purpose and tie you up, tie up your thoughts and emotions into a game you just can't win. Let go and let God!
Your doubts. Go with confidence. Make positive decisions and go with them.
In the game of golf there are 16 different movements to learn to swing the club. That's right, 16! When you first learn to play it is very difficult because your mind is constantly thinking about these movements. It is constantly doubting that you can perform them correctly to hit the ball where you need it to go. What you must learn, after you have practiced the 16 movements and can now complete them and swing smoothly, is to stop thinking, and just hit it! This sums up the mental game, in golf, and in life. Make a decision after “eyeing” the ball, setting the goal, calming down and taking a deep breath, and just walk up to it, and hit it! You have to trust it, and have confidence that you will hit it correctly. Thinking to yourself “Will I hit this right?”, or, “Everyone is watching me”, or “remember, elbows in, shoulders down, knees bent slightly...”, is only going to cause you to second-guess your swing. The single most important lesson in golf. Once you're ready, just go up and hit it!
In pain, once you've learned your 16 movements, movements that won't cause you damage, once you've practiced and trained the right way, through professional, physical therapy, once you study and learn all you can about your affliction and your medicines, set a high goal for yourself. Set small attainable goals that lead to the higher one and just forget all that. Go up and hit it!
Spend a small amount of time to go over your plan and make adjustments, then, don't allow yourself to say “No.” If you've learned how to not hurt yourself, if you know the difference between damaging and non-damaging pain, if you've trained and exercised the right way, then believe me, you're ready.
There's a thing called the hypothalamus gland that allows us to do things automatically without having to think about it. This is why we breathe, walk, talk, work, tie our shoes, all the cognitive things, without having to concentrate on every little detail it takes to make those things happen. It is committed to habit. It takes time and repetition, but if practiced, anything can be put to the hypothalamus gland and become habit.
If for instance, you have a bad habit, say smoking, or drinking, or even just grinding your teeth, you can change this habit by practicing every day for about three to six weeks and it will go to the hypothalamus, and then become automatic. You've now, through concentration, learning, and practice, changed your bad habit into a good one, but you must dedicate yourself to that three to six weeks of change. You must force yourself to do things differently, to think differently. It is the same for pain, for the negative influences of that side of the Pain Cycle.
First, listen to things that you say in your mind and repeat them to yourself or write them down. For instance, I used to get up every morning, my worst time of day, and I would say to myself “Oh boy, today's gonna be tough, with this kind of pain, I'll be lucky to get up at all. This pain is ruining my life. How can I be expected to do anything with pain like this? These medications aren't even touching this. I'll just have to cancel my plans for today!”
Not only is it totally negative, but this was my habitual thinking pattern for four years! Definitely a habit that needed to be broken if I was going to put pain in the background. So the biggest thing I could do for myself was to change my mind, the biggest and the hardest thing. If it took three to four years to start thinking negatively, could I dedicate three to four years to learn a new way? Yes, definitely yes. I was sick of this. I was sick of myself. I had to really listen to myself, my words and my thoughts in order to spot what needed to change.
I began by writing down what other people were saying. Little snippets of words or phrases they would use. I kept a small diary book and just wrote comes in at from conversations I would have with people. Not only did I start to spot the negativity in their words, but I realized that most of us talk from the hypothalamus. We talk out of habit.
As humans, we say words that don't properly convey a message. I realize from studying these words that friends, family, coworkers, doctors, just about everyone, were saying phrases that sounded one way, but I know now, they were meant a different way. Instead of saying “we're concerned about your health, you mean a lot to me and I'm scared to see you changing and it hurts me and worries me to see you in pain!” they say, “are you in bed again? How do you expect to get things done if you lie around all day?” Or “What's going on? I know you have this pain thing, but what's the real reason? You used to be so energetic, why are you so tired? I don't understand you, why are you being so lazy?” There are many pages of the sayings and I'm sure you've heard your share. If you've reached the point where you're in terrible arguments with a loved one over this, give it up. You both need help, a counselor trained in Pain Behavioral Therapy, to help you both to understand, it's the pain, not the people! At Mass General we had pain classes strictly dedicated to family validation issues, and it involved the loved one going in to their own class and learning some new things about understanding chronic pain and hidden illness.
Now add to this the things you say to yourself. Instead of saying “yeah, that hurts, but the doctor said I need to move it, it's good for me.”, we say, “Wow, boy does that hurt! Ow! Oh my God! I can't stand it! There's no way I'll be able to exercise today.” Moan, groan, moan some more. Are we in control of our thoughts or do they control us! And, this is just the tip of the iceberg!
As we lose things we grieve those things. Our social life, our work, our friends and family, on and on, our finances, our credibility, our self-esteem. It becomes our habit to be down. It becomes our habit to think and feel negative, to make up excuses for why it's okay to be this way. I know. This was me for four years. I'm not taking all the blame here, and you shouldn't either, but I'll take my percentage of it. I'll admit to you and to everyone I was a big part of it. I fell for the illusion of pain. I fell for the negativity.
In order to change these habits, I couldn't wait for others to change.
You must change what you can control, yourself. “God grant me the serenity...” yes, look it up, paste it on the wall and live by it every day. Another important one, “Forgive them...for they know not what they do.” It can also be said “Forgive me too, for I didn't know either!” That's the truth. You didn't! I didn't. That's why it's called falling into pain. That's why it's a cycle. It's automatic. Because we don't know any better. Listen to my pain diary before I learned how to think differently;
“October 19, 2001 – 7am, Pain bad! Hitting 9 to 10 this morning – took medications – no help. Laid down, thinking of going to emergency room. Need to get kids from school, hope things are better by then. 2pm. - tired from pain all day. Got up to get kids, pain at 7-8 – crippling. Called doctor, left message with Pam. No call back yet.
3 pm- Get kids from school. Hard to drive. Back spasming, pain back to 8-9. Need help with this, meds kicked in but no help. 7pm. -- Supper wore me out, laid down. Fell asleep, woke up at 10pm. -- laying down not a good thing.”
If I kept the pain diary now it would sound like this:
November 22, 2006. 4pm- Thanksgiving tomorrow, over my sister's to help prepare feast. Not much for me to do, wish there was, like keeping busy. Pain at 6-7. Took walk, did stretches, helped a lot. Storm moving in tomorrow, may explain pain level 7- 8. Periods of 9 by 8pm. Meds wore off quickly for some reason, but after one hour kicked in nicely. Pain back to 7. Cooked some, walked again. Feels great to be with family – the smell of the food is amazing! Ate too much while helping cook, hurts my spine but is well worth it! Pain back to 8-9. My mom is so cool, even with Alzheimer's disease! Stayed up till 2am., doing what I could to help, mostly talking with family and friends. Watched a movie, did some computer work, back pain still way up there, spasming 8-9. Very uncomfortable. Took another walk. Stretched, relaxation, breathing. Helping, I feel better! Finally fell asleep at 3am. Psyched about packing food, moving it to the recreation room and going to pick up my mom again. Today will be so cool. New England Thanksgiving, family, fall storm – can't wait! Probably shouldn't eat too much – but it's so worth it!
Notice anything different? My condition, my pain hasn't changed, it's probably worse. My medications haven't changed except, I take a lot less now. My family hasn't changed, my doctors haven't changed. I think only I've changed. I'm not afraid of pain anymore. I've learned so much about what kind of pain it is. 99% of the time it's not damaging. I've learned to stretch and walk when it's bad, not lay down. I've learned to say Yes instead of No. I've learned to “do what I can, when I can”. I've learned to go with the flow. I've learned to say positive things to myself, never phrasing anything in the negative. Yeah it's sad that this condition will slowly deteriorate and is sad to have this constant pain sensation and it's sad to have days that are just plain uncomfortable, but I'll be damned if I will let it ever again control my life! I've learned not to hurt myself, I do everything I can to help me, but when it's Thanksgiving, or Halloween, or Christmas, or Tuesday Spaghetti Day, or a chance to visit my Aunt and Uncle or to see my Mom, I'll be damned if I'll ever let one of those moments be claimed by pain!
Do I still think about what people are thinking about me, or saying about me, or believing me? Yes. Do I ever think about it beyond that? Never! That would be a subtle negative and I just don't do that anymore. I am being brutally honest here. I am not trying to say this to make it sound better than it really is. I'm telling you, it's still there, spasming all the muscles, hurting like Hell, but, I've changed. I have the power, and it's unstoppable! My pain knows that now. It knows that on a bad day, I'll still do a lot. Just not enough to hurt myself or cause damage. On a good day I'll set aside relax time and still get a lot done. I've taken away Pain's power over me. That's the difference. Now you can too. Start now, not tomorrow. “Do what you can when you can”. Be positive, not negative. This is your chance at the journey! However long pain has been destroying you, it's time to stop, look and listen. Give your journey into the positive the same amount of time as your downfall into the negative and I guarantee you it won't take long. As it was on the “Walk”, you look back over the 45 miles and think, “That wasn't that bad.” No fear, no doubt, no ignorance! No negatives!
The following diagram is a way to help you separate the negatives from the positives, especially the subtle ones. Sometimes it's hard for us to make decisions and we feel torn as we struggle to choose which is bad and which is good. This formula works to help you see the truth of the subject. It weeds out the emotion of the topic and allows us to look at the facts. As we will learn in a future chapter, emotion colors all facts and can make us see things in a way that isn't truthful. Decisions made in the throws of this passion and emotion which pain causes can, and mostly are, disastrous. This is where Behavioral therapy can be very helpful to someone in pain. I did not need help psychiatrically, the pain was not in my head, I needed help with seeing and sorting, with making decisions that would be key to everything dear to me, especially to my family. Not having this help cost me my two children. I will have to plead, here, with the medical professionals out there to say, if you thought it was in my head, why did you not recommend this help. If you understand pain at all, why isn't behavioral therapy included in the care plan? Why isn't this covered by all insurance plans? Our medical system needs to seriously look at the Pain Cycle, and adjust the clinics and insurance approvals, the workplace and the laws, and help us, as we search through this confusing, painful maze for happiness and productivity...and above all, understanding.
The “Ben Franklin” style:
Dealing with negativity and making decisions:
Sometimes, a good way to spot negatives or even to make them positive, is to learn to see the glass half full. One way to do this is to write on a piece of paper, divided into two columns, the good things and bad things about any topic bothering you. This is how Ben Franklin stayed so positive.
For example, mine may look like this:
Topic: My daughters are away from me.
In and of itself it sounds like it's bad, but look how it sets up on paper:
First, there's a lot more good than bad.
Second, some of the things listed as bad I can now see as good. This took an observer to point it out for me as I would never have seen this on my own.
Third, I forgot to list some more things that were good. Again, it took an unbiased observer to point this out.
Now, take the bad and think about this;
How bad could it be?
Have I met people who have had it worse than me?
Would someone in that situation think my bad items are actually very good?
Look at my bad ones. If I imagine someone who has things a lot worse than me and if they were given my bad situation, would they see it as negative? If they saw these bad situations as positive wouldn't they appreciate every single thing about them? Wouldn't they celebrate just the idea of being able to have my bad things?
This won't by itself make you positive, but it should at least point out some things that you need to be aware of. Sometimes we are the last people to see things that are right in front of us. Family and friends can be of little help as they're too close to us and cannot be starkly truthful, without fear of destroying the relationship they have with us.