By Loolwa Khazzoom
Originally published in Massage & Bodywork magazine, September/October 2009.
Following a hit-and-run, head-on car collision in 1997, I joined the ranks of millions of Americans living with chronic pain. Turning to both the conventional and complementary healthcare system, I soon found myself spinning through a nightmare common to those seeking chronic pain relief. I was misdiagnosed, refused tests, dismissed as a hypochondriac, physically injured, emotionally traumatized, and financially drained by the very practitioners who were supposed to help me heal. As a result, I ended up not only in pain, but also in despair.
By 2005, I had sunk so low that contemplating suicide had become as much a part of my morning routine as drinking a cup of coffee. That year, a friend dragged me out of my urban apartment—which I had become afraid to leave—and took me to a bodywork retreat in the middle of the desert. The morning after we arrived, I participated in a gentle yoga class that ended with a meditation.
“Feel the ground beneath you,” the teacher guided. “Feel the weight of your body pressing down; feel the sensation of the mat on your skin.” He paused for a moment. “You are not the ground. You are not the mat. You are not the weight pressing down. You are more than this.” As he led the group through numerous other sensations, each time reminding us that we were more than any of them, I was so in the moment that it took a while to notice my pain had disappeared.
Throughout the previous decade, I had tried physical therapy, yoga, acupuncture, Feldenkrais, swimming, weights, qigong, chiropractic, tai chi, and other modalities as pain management techniques. I knew how much effort it took to reduce pain through natural means. So how could someone just talk me out of it?
Recognizing a crack in the cement of my incessant suffering, I felt enraptured. Something magical existed in a realm beyond what I’d experienced up until then, I knew, and I could access it myself if only I could find the gateway.
Days after the retreat, still fresh with the possibility that an alternative was out there, I dusted off my iPod, strapped on a knee and ankle brace to help stave off the pain that inevitably would come with motion, and headed off to the beach. Something happened along the way: I danced.
It was a flashback to life before the car crash, before the slew of physical injuries and emotional traumas I’d accumulated over the years. Maybe it was the music. Maybe it was the fresh recognition of possibility beyond reality as I had known it. Maybe it was both.
Once at the beach, I pulled out my journal, and began furiously writing about my experience in the desert. When I couldn’t write any more, I closed the book, walked to the water’s edge, and let out a deep, long yell from my gut—releasing anger, pain, and suffering, and expressing the joy of new possibility.
Somehow, the yell morphed into me running down the beach—running! Once upon a time I’d jogged 12 miles a day down those same shores, but it had been almost 15 years since then. Certainly over the previous two years, I hadn’t jogged at all; I’d barely been able to walk three blocks without excruciating pain forcing me to stop.
So there I was running from one side of the beach segment to the other—full of surprise and gratitude, crying and praying my heart out—when the run transformed into a dance. And not just any old dance, but the furious leaping-twirling-stomping dance of days gone by, when my body reflected the manifestation of my spirit. Where had it all come from?
Over the next few months, I learned to reconceptualize dance as something other than leaps, twirls, and fancy footwork. I danced at my edge, wherever that edge was on any given day—even if it meant standing in place and dancing only with my arms. Once I began dancing, I usually found my edge of limitations moving out farther and farther. It was not unusual, in fact, to start off barely able to move and to end up bouncing around my living room. As consistently as it happened, I was always startled by the transformation.
Once I discovered that dancing, above and beyond all else, could help me heal, I became very curious as to why. Primarily, I wondered if the healing power of dance was the product of vibrations from music. That in turn led me to become very curious about the potential of healing vibrations emanating from everything and everyone—sky, trees, water, people. I started experimenting, seeing the world around me as one big, fat radio, and working to tune my dial into those “stations” with healing frequencies.
Essentially, it was a shift in consciousness: I recognized the possibility that something powerful existed beyond the realm of (and yet always had been a regular part of) my daily experience. I invited and made myself receptive to a very particular field of energy. I began walking around like a sponge of sorts—my soul asking (nonverbally) everything and everyone around me if they had some healing power to share, then opening to the energetic vibrations that came my way.
Whenever I was able to really tune in—to flowers on the sidewalk, to fish in the ocean, to smiling people walking by, to healing spirits traveling the earth—I felt immediately calmed and soothed. I felt powerful, hopeful. I felt my body healing. Once, when tuning in to the healing vibrations of stars in the sky, I was able to actually see the vibrations, like physical matter I could cut with a knife.
I also came to discover that I could harness the energy of anger and pain, using it to heal myself. I would transform the anger or pain energy into healing energy, then send that energy into the pain source. Within minutes or seconds, the pain would melt away, leaving me feeling empowered, elated, and in awe.
Experiences like those were so powerful, and so out of the realm of so-called “reality,” they often confused and scared me. Sometimes I shut down after experiencing them. Often, I decided that I had just made everything up, and that any relief I had felt was simply coincidence.
I especially doubted myself because my ability to do a repeat performance was highly erratic. Sometimes I would do my little abracadabra and make the pain vanish immediately—poof! Other times, I would focus and concentrate, then concentrate and focus, only to be left sprawled on my couch like a drunken sailor, belting out an off-key rendition of “I Can’t Get No Satisfaction.”
It was only last year, after I read a book by Adam DreamHealer—a distant energy healer and best-selling author of three books on energy healing—that I began to take myself seriously. As a young boy, this energy worker had all kinds of freaky experiences: objects would fly toward him, his bicycle would suddenly flip in the air while he was riding it, lots of weird stuff that nobody initially believed.
Meanwhile, for years, his mom had regular and excruciating headaches. She would go into her bedroom, lie down, and scream in agony. Nothing could be done to relieve her pain. One day, when his mom was in the middle of an episode, DreamHealer instinctively went into her room, put his hand on her head, and energetically pulled the pain out. His mother immediately stopped screaming, and, as I understand it, she never had another headache episode again.
Forge Through The Doubt
My power to tap into universal energy certainly was not as developed as DreamHealer’s, but after reading his book, I was able to recognize that I had not made up my abilities. I set off on a mission to find people who could help me understand and consistently access my self-healing powers.
I was looking for a guide, a coach, someone to teach me techniques. What I encountered, however, were practitioners of various modalities who wanted me to surrender to their “mastery” (in one case, to the tune of $250 an hour) and to defer to their platitudes about why I had experienced trauma in the first place. I decided, instead, to put my journalistic skills to use. I read books by, and personally interviewed, a cross-section of doctors, bodyworkers, and energy healers during my mission to uncover the mechanics behind the self-healing I had experienced, to understand why it was so difficult for me to trust that experience, and to learn techniques to consistently manifest self-healing.
I discovered that practitioners refer to this self-healing power by many names: energy healing, mind-body medicine, positive expectant faith, consciousness, positive intention, quantum healing, vibrational healing, and connection to the source. Some don’t even call it anything—asserting that by naming it, we limit its power and potential.
“We don’t know what’s going on with the whole notion of energy medicine and healing,” summarizes James Dillard, MD, DC, CAc, a leading pain specialist, author of numerous books on pain relief and featured health expert on Oprah, Good Morning America, and CBS
Evening News. “I think we all need to be able to accept and embrace some of the mystery that goes into health, wellness, healing … I think we have to be humble in the face of that.”
What seems to lie at the core of everyone’s understanding is that there is something akin to a force or a field, where our optimum health lies. That state of being has an increased potential to be within our grasp when we tweak our perceptions of, and relationship to, pain and open ourselves to the infinite possibilities of the universe.
“What we as Reiki practitioners are empowered to do is to create a connection between the client and the very core of her being, the source,” says Pamela Miles, Reiki Master, integrative healthcare consultant, and author of Reiki: A Comprehensive Guide. “This is what physicists refer to as the unified field and meditators as ‘primordial consciousness,’ terms that are placeholders for a level of reality that is the absolute foundation of all that is manifest—an all-pervasive consciousness.”
But how do we access this state of consciousness when our attention and energetic resources are depleted by pain?
Having naturally healed from causalgia, the number one pain-related cause of suicide, Mitchell May, founder of The Synergy Company, understands the challenges involved.
“Pain grabs your awareness, like a pit bull that won’t let go,” he says. “Or, if it lets us go, it’s just momentarily, and we never know when it’s going to return. We tend to shrink down our world, trying to make sure we don’t ever trigger what might bring on the pit bull attack … We begin to identify pain as a thing that’s way more powerful than we are and a thing we’re terrified of. Pain is a thief. It steals from us. People come to feel their essence is gone, their vitality is gone, their hope is gone, their sexuality—all these different elements begin to get taken away.”
Move Away From The Pain
Bodyworkers can help people in pain, May says, by guiding clients to a vaster experience of space. “Because when you’re in pain,” he elaborates, “you have no space. Your world gets very tiny and dense. Your energy just tightens. Your sense of self tightens ... You’re contracting. You almost freeze … One has to find another aspect of one’s self that looks at and experiences pain in a completely different way.”
Perhaps that’s how the yoga teacher helped me at the desert retreat: even without directly addressing the issue of pain, he simply reminded me that I am bigger than any given sensation in my body. That reminder in turn may have brought me to a higher state of consciousness, where untapped power and potential lie.
“What happens is that when we get an injury, we get so afraid that we move our energy away from it,” explains Anna Kilmer, director of the IM School of Healing Arts. “In effect, we maintain the stamp of that injury … We imagine ourselves as lumps of clay that get banged, and then that’s it, we’re chipped. But we really aren’t. We’re alive. So when we bring our attention—our consciousness, the light of our spirit, our energy—to that place [of injury], we grow the possibility for it to really change—for it not to be so contracted, not so frozen in pain … Energy healing is just letting go of the fear.”
How does one let go of the fear, however, when there are so many reasons to be afraid, given not only the physical reality of chronic pain, but the chain reaction of uncertainty and chaos it creates in our lives?
When anxiety and fear come up, says Kilmer, “we want to run away from them. But actually those feelings are your energy. If you can kind of lean into those feelings, and really know them, you will suddenly open yourself to a whole lot more energy.”
Case in point: when I accessed and utilized the sensations of pain and anger—recognizing and harnessing the raw energy within them—I was able to put those sensations to work for me, turning them into a faucet of healing energy. But why couldn’t I apply this method consistently?
“That’s just a natural part of healing,” says DreamHealer, “and if you think about it, it’s no different than anything else. In any sport, you have on and off days. You have on and off days in school. It’s the exact same thing,” he says.
“Patience is essential, because there are so many advances and retreats, precious gains that disappear again into painful losses,” says Martin Rossman, MD, DiplAc, director of The Healing Mind, author of numerous books and CDs on mind-body medicine, and a pioneer in the field of guided imagery. “Perseverance is essential, because the methods we discover may sometimes work and other times not.”
Practice is also essential, says DreamHealer. “If you just put five minutes aside before you go to bed … visualizing yourself in perfect health … just putting that intention out there … does increase the probability of that happening.”
The key word here is probability. On this note, May responds to my encounter with alternative health practitioners who fell into the trap of patient blame, through embracing patient empowerment: “[New Age] wants everything to be under our own desires, under our own fantasy and wishful thinking about how the universe works. If you have the right kind of thought, you’ll be wealthy. If you have the wrong kind of thought, you won’t be wealthy … It’s all about how we can control the universe. I have seen [this ideology] being used in ways that are extremely destructive to people who are suffering, who go seeking assistance because of their suffering, and who end up in a relationship with a practitioner who comes from that point of view.”
Anasuya Batliner, NC, Dipl ABT, CST, agrees. “In the world of alternative health, there is a little bit more freedom to believe in whatever you want to believe, which is in some ways a good thing, and in some ways goes over the edge … People take their own feelings, thoughts, and opinions and project them, coming up with statements like, ‘You’re creating this’ and ‘You need to clear this.’ Certainly, there may be things to clear, but who knows? There’s so much mystery in the world. Who knows why these things happen? Making snap decisions is something that bothers me about the [alternative health] profession. I’m really against people saying that you have this problem because you created it, or you’re drawing bad experiences to you because of something that’s unresolved in you,” Batliner says.
“I think that can be a really negative and mean thing to say to people … It’s incredibly judgmental. And I think that there’s been, unfortunately, acceptance of these judgments. Some of them aren’t seen as judgments at all. They’re seen as, ‘Oh, well everyone believes this.’”
Dillard says this can be detrimental. “For any one of us, [as] an outside observer, to try to evaluate [the cause of pain] for somebody else and say, ‘Oh, they’re missing the real lesson of their suffering,’ is outrageous and arrogant,” Dillard adds.
“On the one hand, we do have a lot of potential responsibility and viability for our situation and for changing our situation,” May says. “However, at the same time, we are in an inextricably interwoven, dynamic, living relationship with all that is around us.”
DreamHealer says positive thoughts, intentions, and visualizations related to healing do not guarantee their manifestation. They do, however, increase our chances of healing, and the art of healing is all about increasing the odds in our favor. “You have to use everything at your disposal and just keep plugging away at the problem,” he says. But, he adds, “You can’t get into the mentality of blaming things—‘I’m sick because of this.’ It doesn’t matter. It’s irrelevant. You’re focusing on getting it better.”
This pure focus, I find, is a place where self-healing intersects with personal and political activism. For chronic pain patients throughout America, the social structures in place to support our healing (medicine, insurance, law) instead subject us to an onslaught of suspicion, accusation, and isolation. We are treated as hypochondriacs with nothing better to do than make up symptoms, as crazy, lonely people looking for attention, or as swindlers try to make a quick buck. When we don’t get the support we need, and our lives spin out of control as a result, we are then blamed for the situation we have “caused.” And so we spiral downward to a physical, emotional, and financial nightmare that only serves to exacerbate our pain, create suffering, and leave us feeling powerless.
In order to truly focus on getting better, we have to ensure, to the best of our abilities, that everything around us is validating and supporting our healing process—the food in our bodies, the people in our lives, the practitioners in our healthcare team. We have to similarly ensure that anything in the way of our healing is ousted from our bodies, our minds, and our lives. When the healing process is supported in this way, the gateway is evident and the path toward wellness becomes clear.