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Navigating the Tightrope of Chronic Pain


I teared up when I watched the video “Headway” by Access Oneness, because it is so like life, and particularly, so like living with pain.

A man starts walking along a tightrope suspended over a river and loses his balance. It looks like he’ll fall into the river, but he catches himself.

Then something absolutely wonderful happens.

He uses the place of falling, the place that starts to look like a mistake, starts to look like failure, and makes something new from it – something completely unexpected and creative. It’s remarkably beautiful.

The Way Across

I found watching this video to be a very visceral and emotional experience. Yes! I thought, this is exactly how we can be with our pain. We can cling to it, we can hang ourselves from it, we can twist ourselves up inside it and stay stuck and caught in it, hanging over an abyss, or we can use it to create beauty.

Both the tightrope and pain set parameters around experience, but they can not fully determine who we are. They do not determine our response. We may be living with severe limits, but we can create something new in that, through that, with that, and beyond that.

The tightrope limits, yes, but it is also a way across.

Pain limits, yes, but, somehow, it is also a way to something.

We may have to live with pain for a long time – we may have to keep coming back to it, just as the tightrope walker keeps bouncing off and coming back to the rope – but we can also create a kind of awesome flexibility and resilience within that.

Using the Space Above and Around Pain

This video could have depicted a stressful walk with the man focusing almost exclusively on his footing and the tightrope itself, trying to control every aspect of the experience, the way we often focus on and try to control our pain experience.

Instead, through the looseness engendered by his fall, his relationship to the tightrope becomes meaningful, alive, exuberant and full of freedom. He shifts his focus to the spaces above and around it and uses it to propel him into places he never would have gone before.

And this is the way we can be with our pain, I feel. Yes, we are in it, yes, it defines a lot about our lives, but we have choices within that and around that.

We can choose to focus on the pain itself as something to be overcome or eradicated or fought against. We can look down at it, metaphorically speaking, and hate it. We can stand in one place, our feet aching, our body tense, trying to hold our balance in one stuck position, whatever that may mean for us.

Or we can create.

Even with the pain, we can create. Even if our creativity is more internal than external, we can breathe, flex, adjust. We can re-learn to believe in ourselves and to dream.

Finding Places of Unexpected Beauty

Imagine if the tightrope walker had chosen to fight the rope, or cut it, or simply sit down and hang onto it. These are all options open to him, but look what he would have lost!

When you watch, notice how he completely changes his relationship not only to the rope but to the space around it – he becomes  more engaged with the air, with gravity, with his own body, and the music, and through this engagement he allows himself more freedom, and allows whatever happens to simply and elegantly inform his next move.

This is so much how we want to be with our pain, I believe.

I think it bears watching Headway repeatedly, for those of us walking the tightrope of pain. We can imagine ourselves moving more freely, practicing inner agility and creating a relationship with pain that is fluid, has breath and may even propel us into unexpected places of freedom and beauty.

Image Credits: Sarah Anne Shockley

Image via Pixabay