By: Danielle Wilson
I was reminded of my own internal strength this past week, my exceptional ability to endure discomfort, and my raw loyalty to presence, experience, and separation of ego and spirit.
Our fierce leader, Robin French, has added another holistic healing/self-care skill to her belt, offering Gua Sha treatments to anyone brave enough to withstand the potential pain that comes with this ancient Chinese medicine technique. Gua, meaning scraping, and Sha, translated as toxins, this vigorous body work releases toxins from fascia, ridding the body of excess inflammation, breaking up scar tissue, and on a more spiritual front, shedding past emotional traumas that have settled into the nooks and crannies of the physical body. It is a treatment that comes with the price of some pretty intense bruising—something that definitely doesn’t go unnoticed, particularly within the first day. Although the bruises heal quite rapidly (at least in my case), they are quick to tell the story of the heightened level of pain experienced throughout the process.
As we sat down to begin, Robin gave me the lowdown about the pain I’d signed myself up for. She explained that we could stop for breaks at any time, and that each experience with Gua Sha is different, the first time usually being the most sensational and uncomfortable. It doesn’t take much to scare me, and I’ll admit, there’s nothing more tantalizing to me than a test of my personal strength—physical, mental, emotional, and otherwise—and so, we began.
It wasn’t long before Robin was exclaiming her shock towards my ability to withstand pain. After inquiring if I was sure I was okay, and my response so effortlessly slipping out of my mouth, it was obvious she found my pain tolerance quite remarkable! At first, it was a total ego booster. In my head, I was like, “aw yea, she’s right, I’m tougher than I look and it’s pretty impressive!” But I no longer allow my ego to celebrate itself for too long, especially over such rudimentary accolades. At this point in my life and my soul’s journey through mindfulness and yoga, it is more so in my nature to veer towards reflection of why I am the way I am, think the way I think, or feel the way I feel.
The truth is, the scraping was incredibly painful, but as I sat there and wondered about why exactly I was able to keep my composure and show almost no sign of discomfort, a powerful memory came to mind:
A little over a year ago, I was staying on a self-sustainable farm in the middle of the Costa Rican jungle, obtaining my 200hr Yoga Teacher Training Certification. The land was one of the most beautiful places I had ever seen. Giant jungle trees with monkeys swinging from branch to branch, enormous butterflies fluttering from one bright colored flower to the next, and the eternal chirping of birds and bugs filling the air with an aliveness I had never felt before. Our casitas were made from refurbished storage units and painted to match the vibrancy of the jungle around us. An open yoga platform served as the centerpiece of the camp, built from fallen trees in need of repurposing around the farm. Connecting the many facets of this heavenly place, was a path filled with pebbles, just big and small enough to give a painful stabbing to the bottoms of bare feet.
This place felt so pure, so full of ancient and natural spiritual energy. I wanted so badly to feel one with it all and soak in as much of the organic Earth I could before I returned to my concrete city. One of the most basic and human ways to connect with Mother Nature is to allow the soles of your feet to bond with her beauty. I found it difficult, though, to walk the pebble path without being in complete and utter pain. I watched as one of Sangha sisters walked effortlessly down the path day after day, until I finally approached her on the matter, “how do you do it?” I asked, “how do handle the pain of this path under your feet?” She turned to me slowly, her face calm and curious as to the intensity of my inquiry, “I am not this body,” she said, as she turned and almost floated the rest of the way down the path.
I stopped in my tracks. I know exactly what she was telling me: our souls are these immaculate spirals of energy taking up temporary residence in these very tangible, physical bodies. We utilize these bodies to experience a multitude of emotions and sensations so that our spirit can learn the lessons it needs to grow on this beautifully mysterious journey. Succumbing to pain is an act of the ego, not of the spirit. Sitting in discomfort is our true Self’s ability to watch the pain, to be in it, but not of it. We learn to master this state of being through practices like yoga and meditation. We focus on accepting the pain as a neutral experience that carries a weight no more or less than any “positive” experience like a gentle massage, warm bath, or relaxing facial. Every sensation and emotion in life is meant to lead us to a lesson—big or small—and it is merely our ego that divides these experiences into “good” or “bad.”
So, do I actually have a heightened and impressive pain tolerance? Or have I simply begun to master my ability to separate my Self from my pain? I’d like to think the truth lies somewhere in the middle, but regardless, this spiritual representation of mind over matter isn’t something to brush off as nothing. I explained to Robin that extreme pain tends to send me into a state of meditation; it’s almost as if I am meditating on the pain in the same way we focus on our breath during flow. My mental and emotional focus is tunnel vision on the sensation of my pain, not in the sense that it overcomes me with sadness and fear, but more so out of curiosity, out of a willingness and openness to learn. Imagine if we all lived our lives from the sentiment of “I am not this body.” Would we face our fears more courageously? Would we more readily accomplish that in which we once deemed impossible? Would we take more risks, spawn more growth, and create more success from our mere ability to walk more effortlessly into the fire of our pain? I think so, and I believe it is not my tolerance to pain that signifies my true strength, but this incredible willingness to see my Self as separate from my body, as a divine and magical energy that is more fierce and powerful than this physical body could ever be.