Today I went to see my massage therapist because of residual pain from injuries few years ago that was flaring up again in my wrist, shoulder, back and neck on my right side. Usually it’s the wrist/elbow that’s to blame, the other parts just sort of get pulled along too – though the shoulder has it’s own problems… let’s just say I’m happy that massage therapy exists. It had been much too long since my last visit, I’d had calling for an appointment on my to-do list for months but just hadn’t bothered to do it until a friend who’d seen me in pain pestered me until I called. Thank goodness for friends.
So I was laying on the massage table, at the mercy of the therapist, who was working on my neck… and at this point I have to stop and explain something: when one is getting a massage because one has an injury, this is not the relaxing, candlelight, handsome Swedish bodybuilder, soft music, stereotype of a massage situation. No, with this massage therapist I’ve had ice applied afterwards to make sure there’s no bruising. Yes, that painful. Of course the long-term effects are positive, with less pain later on, but in the moment it can be seriously ouchy. The kind of pain where I have to be reminded to breathe.
So he was working on my neck and asking, as usual “how does this feel?” – which I have to say sometimes feels like a bit of a silly question because I know that he knows that it hurts, but I suppose he needs to know how much it hurts, what kind of pain it is (dull, sharp, prickly) and where exactly it hurts. And it’s this question of where it hurts that is the point of this story. Because when he asked how the pain was while he was digging into my neck, I told him that it was in the usual spots – neck, wrist, shoulder, but also flowing up into my head. And he said something along the lines of “Ah, you have pain overflow, so much pain that it needs other places to go.”
And I suppose it makes sense, on a certain level, that something could be so much that it would push beyond where it is. And of course, it got me thinking. It got me thinking about the pain – be it physical, emotional, spiritual, psychological – that inevitably shows up in all of our lives, and how that pain is sometimes so great that it has to overflow into other areas. Sometimes it crosses over – emotional pain overflowing into our physical bodies, spiritual pain overflowing into our emotions, as well as from one part of our lives to another. I think of the people I encounter who are seemingly upset about something that seems simple or trivial to me, but then when I learn that there is something else much bigger and more painful going on in their life, I realize that the emotions I’m seeing are actually pain overflow from another area of their life. It’s the loss of a loved one that makes losing your keys huge and overwhelming. It’s the broken relationship that makes the broken phone screen a devastating situation.
I’ve seen pain overflow in people’s lives and it really is difficult to deal with. But I suspect that there’s a way that some pain overflow, especially the emotional, spiritual and psychological pain, can be relieved with deep relationship and in community. When we have people close around us our pain can overflow into their lives too – for better or for worse. But hopefully, if the ones who love us are strong, they can help with the overflow, holding our overflow of pain and making it bearable for us until we are able to hold it ourselves again. This is the struggle and the joy of community – the shared pain hurts all of us, the shared joy invigorates all of us. Joy too, can overflow, and fill the lives of those around us with joy.
Pain overflow is inevitable, so let’s hold one another tenderly and share the pain, and with the sharing, ease it.