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Wake Up Calls

seeking glimpses of spirit in every day life

"... cherishing yourself in order to be who you are. This is the basis of all healing.”
Barbara Brennan, energy healer, author of Hands of Light

Chronic Pain: When You Can't Find Compassion

Updated: Sep 13, 2023

From the perspective of energy healing, it is often recommended to reach for feelings of love and compassion to heal anything. Love is the answer. Love heals everything.

Even if you are into "healing," does love sometimes feel corny and trite? Too simple, almost emotionally flat or unsubstantial?

Today let's examine the way we use the word love, and how to conjure the energy of love when a situation feels undeserving it.

One practice of loving kindness that I use and suggest to my clients for chronic pain is from beloved Zen Master Thich Nhat Hahn. It's a simple meditation:

"Breathing in, I am aware of my pain. Breathing out I feel compassion for my pain."

We want to embrace the higher energy of healing love and kindness. We want to let go of the lower energy of anger and resistance.

I have practiced this meditation many times. I love the feeling of softness and comfort that comes over me as I realize my poor body has been suffering alone. I also become aware of how much I have been adding insult to injury by contracting into anger, blame, and hopelessness.

Sometimes, though, I can't conjure that compassion. I am sick and tired of pain. I don't know what my body wants and it feels like a spoiled child. I can't find my patience and insisting on compassion makes me angrier!

When this happens, what can we do?

Sometimes I embrace the anger and make it my new affirmation. "Breathing in I am aware of my anger. Breathing out I feel compassion for my anger." This is perhaps the most pure usage of this meditation. We want to get to the bottom of the anger because it is probably contributing tot he physical pain!

Sometimes, though, I feel weary of anger. Perhaps I have leaned into it in the past, but today it doesn't feel like the thing that will move me forward. I try this instead:

Trying to feel compassion is making me angry. My gut tells me working with the anger is not the thing for today. So I'm going to reach for a word that helps me soften around the pain, something that inspires harmony.

Remember we are working with energy. Vibration and frequency. We want to move into a lighter frequency, away from anger and toward love.

We want don't have to use the word love itself to move into a loving vibration. We don't have to use the word compassion itself, to move into the vibration of compassion.

Some words I have used to raise my vibration are acceptance, curiosity, and letting go.


"Breathing in, I am aware of pain. Breathing out I accept that pain walks with me in the world."

Affirming that, I didn't love my pain, provided me a palpable comfort. It was similar to realizing I didn't have to love people who commit heinous crimes.

Whether I love or despise them, they are in the world. My hate and loathing won't erase them, but it will lower my own vibration. It will cause me to be trapped in negative thoughts, stress, and the subsequent impact on my health and well being.

(Not to mention the impact my own negative vibration sends out to the world.)

In this case, accepting the world as it is was my best choice for a higher vibration. I felt my body soften as I substituted the word acceptance for compassion.

(Note: If you don't feel a positive somatic reaction, choose another word. Don't "make" yourself feel anything you don't truly feel.)


"Breathing in I am aware of my pain. Breathing out I am curious about the pain."

Breathing in curiosity gives my brain a new idea. If chronic pain is an ingrained neural pathway, why not give the subconscious something new to explore? Subconscious minds love a challenge! Instead of letting the same program run, why not begin to ask ourselves why it's there in the first place?

Curiosity is a wonderful vibration to help us with the spiritual idea of surrender, i.e., non resistance to life as it is. If something is already here, will it help me more to fight against it or to become curious about it?

If we encounter a person or group we don't like, is it helpful to stay walled away in angry defense? If we keep our door shut, we stay trapped in our disdain. When we ask instead, "What drives them to do that thing I find so disdainful? What is their experience? What would I do if I walked in their shoes?"


"Breathing in I am aware of my pain. Breathing out, I am willing to let go of pain."

Sometimes we have accepted, explored, and found compassion for our pain. As popular teachings suggest, we have taken care of it as we would an innocent child in distress.*

Yet it persists.

Once I asked my teacher if we could resort to tough love? Like, "That's enough crying! Lots of people have it worse than you." Or "Stop crying. You're being selfish!" (or childish, weak, troublesome, etc.)

She said no. You have to stay with love. Love is the answer.

oh brother :-(

Just kidding. I get it about love.

I also feel like sometimes we have done the "work." We have done the emotional digging. There is no stone left unturned. Tears no longer well up when we think of past hurts.

We are so "done" with healing.

Then I wonder: Could the pain really be just some well-worn neural pathway? A physical program that makes us believe we have no option for a different experience?

What if we simply can't fathom life differently? We don't know what change would look like. What if subconsciously we are choosing the familiar because deep down we fear the unknown?

Then try this affirmation: "I love and accept who I am. I have this pain AND I am willing to receive a different experience. I am willing to let go of this pain."

Willingness is a higher vibration than anger, fear or grief. Not up there with love and joy, but that doesn't matter. We just need something to jog us up a notch or so.

When you don't know what to "do" next, it is super powerful to put "being willing to receive" on your to do list.

Use it as a mantra when you meditate. Use it as an affirmation you interject throughout your days whenever you feel yourself spiraling downward in thought or emotion.

When it seems the painful and horrible parts of our world are winning, when compassion feels inappropriate or downright wrong, you can stop trying to make sense of it.

You can surrender. You can ask for help. "I don't know how to do this, but I am willing to receive."

Ask to receive love if you're having trouble finding it. Receive compassion. Receive kindness. Receive cash if you want....whatever would put you in receiving mode. Receive beauty. Receive willingness to receive if you can't find that either.

Ask to receive the energy of receiving.

You don't have to know how to do this, but you if you want help, you have to ask. Try asking with your hand on your physical heart. Ask as if you believe you are speaking directly to your Source. Ask with reverence and love for that higher power. Because love heals everything.

*Thich Nhat Hahn, The First Eight Exercises of Mind

7. Be aware of pain

The seventh is to be aware of a painful feeling or emotion. Breathing in, I know there is a painful feeling or emotion rising up in me. The practitioner does not try to fight this pain, to cover it up inside, or to run away from it.

In fact, because she is a practitioner, she knows how to generate the energy of mindfulness. With that energy she recognizes the pain and she embraces it tenderly. ‘Hello, my little pain. I know you are there. I will take good care of you.’ Whether that is anger or fear or jealousy or despair, we have to be there for our pain. There is no fighting; there is no violence done to our suffering.

Our pain, our suffering is our baby; the energy of mindfulness generated by our practice is the loving mother. And the mother has to recognize that the baby suffers.

She takes the baby and holds it tenderly in her arms. That is exactly what a good practitioner will do when a painful feeling arises.

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