The San Diego Pain Summit is still swirling around in my head, an unreal amount of thoughts and ideas associated with all I learned, was exposed to, and talked about there, that it’s hard to even know where to start. I have roughly 4 draft posts in the wings right now because there’s too many directions I want to go in!
But there are a few underlying threads that I felt throughout many of the presentations, as well as in my discussions with other folks at the conference, that strongly resonate with my own thoughts of late on pain and pain management (and life and life management, for that matter), especially in regards to movement, creativity, and authenticity.
There’s something connecting all of these things, and I’ve spent much of the past week trying to pluck out those threads and see where they go.
So I’ve been thinking quite a bit. As I do my best thinking while walking, that means I’ve been walking quite a bit.
And it struck me, on a walk of course, that walking brings all of those threads together for me–movement, creativity, authenticity, pain management–and weaves them into something that can be appreciated and understood, something meaningful to me, something that is so simple yet so integral to my own health and happiness…to my valued life.
(Now the trick will be to see if I can make it make sense to anyone else…)
So I’ve been thinking a lot lately about how play, creativity, self-expression, and mindfulness are ways to not only manage or overcome pain, but are ways to generally live a fuller, happier, more meaningful life. My own pain management success came when I stopped focusing on the pain so much, when I stopped being so concerned about how to fix it and be rid of it and instead started focusing on the other aspects of my life: my relationships, my passions, my values, my loves, my hobbies, my family, my writing, my time spent outdoors.
My purpose. My meaning. My identity. My authentic self.
(I know that sounds New Age wooey to a lot of folks, but there really is something to it, so stick with me here…)
My pain usurped my identity after I got hurt, I lost who I was for a bit. I just thought of the pain, nothing else. It consumed my every thought, my every action, my every fear and every hope. I was just a person in pain. But, thankfully, I had few things that helped me get through the worst of it, including my husband and dog, being outside in my backyard, cooking.
I could no longer do much in the way of physical activity for quite some time, a tough blow for an ex-firefighter, runner, and weight lifter. But I could still walk.
So I walked
And I walked.
And I walked….
I have always loved being outside, especially on a trail, pretty much anywhere, be it a remote mountain town or a city park. I have been camping since I was in diapers and have always had an affinity for hiking and the great outdoors.
I walk a lot, everywhere and anywhere. I did so before I got hurt and continued to do so after the pain showed up (and stuck around).
Walking plays an important role in my life, one I hadn’t much thought of until the Pain Summit.
What walking is to me
Walking is how I meditate; it helps me to quiet the chatter of everyday life, allowing me to look inward and become more mindful of my bodily sensations, my thoughts, my feelings. To be more connected with myself.
Walking allows me to be more aware of the world around me, to actually notice the world around me, to engage with it, observe it, explore it, learn about it, appreciate it, be surprised by what I find in it, be in awe of it. To be more connected with the world.
Walking is where all my writing starts. It’s where all the disparate thoughts, images, ideas, interactions, books, movies, conversations, lectures, social media bits, news, music, and stories swirling around in my brain come together into something I can put into words.
“All truly great thoughts are conceived by walking” ~ Friedrich Nietzsche
Walking also allows me to interact with the world through photography. The past couple years I have started taking pictures on my walks, which not only allows me to take notice of and appreciate the world around me, it also allows me to share that appreciation with others; it allows me a creative outlet to express what these walks show me, what I’ve learned from them, what they mean to me, and how much I value them.
The world is a beautiful place, from the heroic flower growing through a sidewalk crack to a vista of the Rockies, from the crush of humanity on a city street to the crushed leaves beneath your feet in your own backyard: it is beautiful and inspiring and awesome. And just outside my door, always.
Taking pictures on my walks also gets me to move in all kinds of ways, without pre-planning or over-thinking it: I just move in whatever way necessary to get the shot that I want. I’ve climbed trees and fences, laid in the middle of trails or splayed over boulders, knelt and crawled and squatted and crept and sidled and stood on tiptoe.
It’s great fun :)
Walking is how I spend quality time with my dog and husband every single day, with no distractions, just us. It’s how we get to know new things about each other. It’s how we get reacquainted with the old and familiar in each other, too.
Walking can be social; I love walking with friends, four-legged or two.
Walking helps to calm me, allows me to breathe easier, relaxes the tension, in mind and body, that we all tend to carry around with us. I feel more at ease, more at peace, more at home in my own body.
Softer, less edgy.
I think differently when I’m walking outside; more openly, more clearly, more freely.
I move differently when I’m walking outside; more openly, more freely, more naturally, more instinctively.
I feel differently when I’m walking outside: more open, more free, more energized, more engaged, more me.
Walking for me is effortless, even when it’s challenging. It helps me to soften, to soothe my cranky nervous system and ease my pain. It makes me feel flushed, warm, and happy. I am often surprised and delighted by what I find.
I am my authentic self
When I’m walking in nature, there’s no right or wrong, there’s no proper form, there’s no rigidly defined rules on how I’m supposed to move or for how long or where or when.
This aspect of walking has been especially therapeutic for me
When I started experiencing pain, it was like all of a sudden, all of my movement was prescribed. My postures, even while sitting or sleeping, my movement, my activities were all specific and pretty rigidly defined. Movement became something that had to be controlled to meet a specific criterion in order for me to get out of pain.
That didn’t work out so well for me. I began over-thinking every movement, every posture. I tried to control it during all my waking hours, trying to move correctly, sit correctly, I even tried to sleep correctly.
It was stressful, exhausting, impossible.
My natural inclinations were suppressed, my movement was always altered to fit some image I had in my head of what it was supposed to look like, what I was supposed to be doing, how I was supposed to be moving.
And I was always doing it ‘wrong’, or else why would I still have pain? So I had to become even more controlling of every posture, every movement. It became more stressful, more exhausting.
More impossible. More hopeless.
Except when I was outside, just walking. When I would just let movement happen, rather than try to control it.
When I’d go for a walk, I’d get out of my own head for a bit. When I would hit a trail and lose myself in nature, even if it was just the local city-maintained trail by our house, I could let all that other stuff go for a bit.
I could move how I wanted to move, I could take pictures, I could think, I could relax, I could hope and dream and be happy. I could be at ease, both in my movement and within myself. I could reconnect with myself, with the world.
It was my time. Just me and nature. And nature has no expectation, no judgement, no rules, no ideal ways of moving, no coaching, no corrections.
I was free to just be myself, to move and think how I wanted to, to just be Jo.
That’s what I want for everybody, for them to feel free to be themselves, to move and think how they want to, to not be afraid to express themselves through movement, through art, through words, through images…through whatever it is that allows you to just be you.
When I’m out in nature, walking and wandering, I am found
“But the beauty is in the walking–we are betrayed by the destinations”
– Gwyn Thomas
Note: The movement characteristics of effortlessness, softness, warmth, and surprise were introduced to me during Barrett Dorko‘s talk on instinctive movement and his therapeutic approach to pain management. The thoughts and interpretations shared in this post are taking some of what he said out of the clinic and into my own life, and as such don’t necessarily reflect what he was trying to convey at the Pain Summit. For a more accurate depiction, I highly recommend you check out Barrett’s website, he is a prolific essayist with many thought-provoking and entertaining posts. And you can learn more about ideomotion and counter-cultural movement – it’s good stuff.
As always, thanks for reading my post, folks! I’m going to be continuing with posts on movement, creativity, and self-expression, with some in the works on how I think snowboarding helped me get out of a biomechanistic rut and another on how we all could all do well to channel our inner child and just play and fidget and move how we want to move, dammit.