Today marks 92 days out of pain from severe sciatica. Most cases last 2-3 weeks; mine lasted 12. A mirror stands in front of me, now free from an embodiment of lightning in my rear left thigh just as long as I seemed to be imprisoned by it. Though the pain was horrific, the gifts offered by this trauma outweigh it 10,000-fold. Trauma presented a doorway to bliss I never knew existed.
Succinct isn't my middle name. I write like flowers bloom. My heart writes for me. She is unlimited. She spills, she's wide, she's vast. Yet sometimes brief is worth a try. So here I go.
When it takes nine hours of heavy opiates to cut thunderous pain from your thigh, you are then gifted with patience while standing in a grocery store line.
Thank you, trauma.
When your pain is on such hellfire you either ask for help 200 times a day or suffer more, you never hesitate to ask for help again -- and are gifted now, with eyes that see Love's constant motion via the act of giving and receiving. Giving and receiving. We were born to serve each other.
Thank you, trauma.
When you wonder if dying would be better than feeling pain like this another day, and you breathe, and you breathe, reminded that all you can do is your best in this. moment. now... You've been given a heavy dose of Wake-Up! And on those days when you're stressed out or grumpy, afraid our planet is dying and our species is going extinct, well... then again you remember that while you might not be able to save the planet from sinking, you can still do your best in this moment now. Healing doesn't live in tomorrow. It lives now.
Thank you, trauma... for endless invincible truths that offer freedom.
All I can do, I now see, is choose Love over fear in one moment and then the next. Even if the limitless version of me -- the Oneness in which our truth resides -- is pain-free, I love being here in a body for now. I choose this Life, and Life chooses me. I am breathing. I have walked through trauma's doorway, holding hands with the divine.
Thank you, trauma.
Today I choose to focus on where the glass is half-full, not half-empty. Brain surgery for a massive tumor followed two months later by severe chronic pain? OK. Well guess what? I've never been raped. I wasn't abused as a child. I've never been physically locked up or chained in enslavement. I have food to eat and a safe bed to sleep in. My daughter is alive and healthy. OK?
Thank you, trauma.
Empathy in me is oceans deep. For those of you who've experienced sciatica or other forms of striking pain, I wish you peace of mind and ease in body. One day I will finish Ten Steps to Heal Sciatica. For now, here's Step 1 out of 10 and Step 2 out of 10: Reduce Pain and Inflammation.
Today I celebrate the gift of Life in a body, and the glorious gifts trauma has given me. How about you? What are you celebrating today?
OUCH. All the empathy in the world to you.
Sciatica is... so... painful. I'm on Day 50 with it today as I write to express my Love for humanity — that's you — by sharing all the things that have helped me along the way. I gave birth to a child with no medication or interventions, and yes there was some pain involved — but at least I got a child out of that! And labor was seven hours, not 50 days. OK, onward, let me share with you, precious human, and may you be free of pain ASAP.
First, now, and in every now that follows: LISTEN. It’s your body. It’s your journey. Your body knows what it needs and it is a pristine communicator.
Listen. What is it saying now? Does it need a nap? When you stretch, what feels good and what doesn’t? Listen to your body, and go with what other people tell you works when it resonates with you, not just because it worked for them.
A retired General Surgeon who treated many cases of sciatica in his 40 year MD career says the steroid injection many patients receive works for 50% of them. Is it worth it for you to try? Ask within yourself, ask trusted friends and family for their thoughts, ask your body, then decide for yourself.
He also says one thing that’s been very effective for him in relieving the nerve pain associated with sciatica is CBD+THC cream. Plants are powerful. Is this for you? That’s up to you. Listen.
Use the power of your relationship with the divine, whether you call it prayer, meditation, inquiry or something else, to help you heal. You are not your story. You are not your pain. Who are you, in your essence? Yep, deep stuff — just like the sting of sciatica. It’s physics. Like attracts like.
When we listen, we can find insights that help us heal.
Every day since neurosurgery 3 ½ months ago, I have chosen music as meditation. Singing songs based in Love and Spirit, songs based in the power of what we call God, gives me divine chills all over my body. Does it matter that I have no voice training? Nope, nada, zilch-a-zippa. The acoustic vibration within my throat and vocal chords literally zings me into feeling ecstatically high. How? It puts me in touch with Who I Am. It is medicine.
To explore this question for yourself, I recommend Eckhart Tolle’s teachings about the power of the present moment. His consciousness is a profusely clear invitation into a higher state of our own. YouTube is full of his wisdom — spiritually potent talks given for free. I also found Michael Singer’s book, The Untethered Soul: The Journey Beyond Yourself, to be very powerful on this topic. We can free ourselves from some of the pain by recognizing it is not who we are.
Ultimately, I believe my own experience with sciatica is life’s way of fine-tuning me to be my body’s best friend. Best friends listen well. How well do I listen to my body’s messages — her lower back pain, the pressure my spine feels when I stand too much, the streaks of lightning-like pain down the left thigh? When my body whispers her pain, do I listen? Or does she need to shout thunderously from my glut down my thigh, for me to listen?
Sciatica is a symptom of something else. If I had listened fully when my lower back began communicating it needed attention, would I have prevented the sciatic nerve from yelling 10 days later? My sense — probably. Guilt and shame? No. Lesson for a dedicated student? Yes.
Bring your attention back from the future when it goes there, to now. Now is actually all we've got. Going into worry and fear about the future can sting, and we don't want more of that!
How attentively do you respond, giving your body what it needs rather than denying it the Love it’s meant to receive from you?
What does your body need right now?
A wise friend once said, “Life is sad and beautiful.” Her simple words were eloquent and profound. It’s true, I thought, this is the range of human experience, so wide. It’s not fun living on the sad end of the range, yet no one gets to escape this part. It’s part of the human experience.
Eight years ago I gave birth at home to a baby girl two weeks and three days prematurely. Two hours after she emerged from my body, our midwife calmly told us she wasn’t breathing well and that I needed to get dressed and go to the hospital. I went into shock. Raw and unmedicated, my entirety felt ripped apart by desperate, frozen thunder.
Inside the ambulance, the paramedic flicked the bottom of our baby girl’s feet to keep her lungs stimulated. Her father and I spent day and night after day and night in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) as her lungs received support to grow healthy. On her 10th day of life outside my body, we took her home.
In the weeks that followed, I fed our precious baby my breast milk and was supported by a well respected Lactation Consultant. When she told me that my milk supply was low because my breasts’ milk ducts were arranged differently than most mothers’, my being felt ruptured again. What? My body could not feed my baby?
A silver lining appeared. I was introduced to a woman named Mary who had an oversupply of healthy breastmilk. Her milk was just right for our daughter as she had given birth just five weeks before I had which meant our babies’ nutritional needs were similar. Mary and I shared a fierce bond. Our daughter was fed largely by Mama Mary, someone with whom I share core values and whose milk I trusted. I’d pick up small, tall glass jars of her milk and stock our refrigerator weekly. My soul’s Village values shone bright and a new human life became fully nutritionally nourished.
Still, the shock and trauma I had experienced after giving birth struck me on deep levels. I entered 13 months of postpartum depression, even in the presence of the greatest Love I’d ever known: our child. Even in the presence of her highly devoted father. Even in the presence of world class friends and an attentive, loving family.
Thirteen months was a long time to feel down. Our daughter received a lot of love and affection, she was held by our arms and in her carrier, I sang to her and we read to her, and her lungs worked great. Still, something had lodged itself within my consciousness that kept my inner skies gray.
Then one day, I decided I wanted to exit. I wanted to rise up. I wanted to find a land where joy was daily, where the songs I’d sing to her filled our home with bright smiles and silliness. This can’t be difficult, I thought.
It was springtime. My little lady, with her toddling new steps, stepped out of our front yard onto the sidewalk with me. Renowned spiritual teacher Eckhart Tolle came to mind as his distinct capacity to be present seemed to slip into the fresh April air. The essence of Ram Dass’ book, Be Here Now, planted itself in my mind.
This moment, now... I thought. What do I want?
I took one step forward and stopped in that position, one foot in front of the other.
Ahh, the sun feels so good on my face.
Another step, and pause.
Goodness, we have a healthy daughter! WOW, wow, wow! How fortunate we are.
Her voice makes my heart do kartwheels. She is a dream come true!
As my daughter toddled along the sidewalk giggling and plucking flower petals off the ground, it struck me that all of a sudden, I felt lighter than I had when we walked out the door. God this felt good. I continued.
I have legs to walk. We have hills in our neighborhood. I love walking up hills!
Another step forward, another pause.
Where we live, the air is clean and feels so good to breathe in… I love this fresh air!
I could kiss her cheeks and belly 1,000 times a day.
As we walked past neighbors’ homes admiring trees, I realized I felt noticeably better. My heart was light, right now. And in the next right now. I was not depressed. Not right now.
Another step forward and pause.
We have fresh food to eat, grown organically. Love for our bodies, Love for the Earth.
It was that simple.
When I could have chosen antidepressants or coping with overeating (which I had chosen in the past), I chose a simple exit into a place of feeling good. Whichever option is chosen does not change whether that person is lovable; I am simply glad that in this situation, I chose a way out that didn’t hurt.
We are all doing our best. Depression is something many people experience and we all make the choices we need to, to cope, process and heal.
Seven years later, I find myself applying this same simple practice as I move through recovery from neurosurgery. Is there pain? Yep. Is there fear? More than I ever thought I’d face. Are the answers complicated and difficult? No, they are not. One step after another, one day at a time, I can choose — as can you — to live in the only moment there is: Now. In this moment right now, I can choose to notice beauty, joy, and all the things I’m grateful for. In this moment right now, I can give thanks for how my body communicates with me so precisely. As does yours, with you.
Alternatively, we can choose to place blame, we can choose to focus on negativity in our physical body or in the world, we can choose to feel bad. Regardless of the circumstances, we are free to choose.
To anyone experiencing depression, fear or anxiety, I share up this simple tool to bring yourself to a brighter state of mind. Your choice. You choose. Step outside and one step at a time, one moment at a time, focus on what feels good. You are the creator of your state of mind, and by the way, you are radically beautiful. Notice that. It’s all up to you.
Are pet peeves meant to whip us into spiritual shape? When something triggers us emotionally, isn't that a sign that we aren't at peace, that we have given this "thing" power over us, that we have something to forgive, to let go, to accept?
For me these days, being ignored is that thing. It really bothers me, and it's happened a few times in the last two years with people who I thought were "above" or beyond ignoring. People who I expected were able to speak up, even if it meant saying something awkward. And then my own greatest masterpiece, my daughter, brought the topic to the table -- ignoring people in a way that seemed to ask me to step-up. Teach her. Show her. Dive into it. At this point ignoring is knocking on my door.
Let's start with spiritual responsibility -- or personal responsibility. When I am being ignored enough to bother me, I need to look in the mirror. Am I ignoring people? Is this my own unhealthy habit staring back at me?
All I need to do here is pay attention and step up. Live the Golden Rule, be the change I wish to see in the world. When someone calls to me, respond. Beggar on a city sidewalk or my husband. Respond. I can do this.
It was two years ago when the first ignoring instance happened -- a significant one, not a little small silly thing where I called to a stranger, asked them a question and they ignored me. I can let that wash off my shoulders. This was a bold, intelligent, empowered woman friend who I had written to from Sweden. Along with a long, beautiful letter, I had sent her children drawings from my daughter. When I didn't hear back I reached out again, months later, and... nothing. She ignored me.
Fast forward one year. Her ignoring me didn't weigh me down. I called her one day out of the blue to see if she was willing to talk about marriage -- out of the box, because she is a free thinker not constrained by the bulk of our culture's in-the-box ways.
She answered the phone and said yes. She asked me to text her to set up a time and... Flop. Ignored me again. So my mind goes through its little dance... Am I "not cool enough" for her? That sort of thing. But I happen to really like me, and that kind of thought doesn't weigh me down long.
A question remains. I'm left wondering and a bit annoyed that someone I saw as a conscious communicator could actively ignore me. How does it feel on her end?
At a recent family reunion, a family member ignored me. Upset with something I had done that somehow really upset her, she walked past me upon arrival without saying much, and left the reunion without saying bye either. She ignored me the whole time, and for decades I've been a person who can "see the pain" in this kind of behavior, who can stay mostly in a place of forgiveness, this time I felt angry. Underneath it there is sadness because the way we communicate is so, so sad to me -- but there is also anger on top, and at this point in my life I am letting all my feelings be heard. One big fat piece of ignoring. Ouch. This one hurts a bit. Will we die disconnected?
Yes anger, you get to have a voice too and I hear you. It has been decades. It is time.
In July one of my dearest long time friends visited the beach near me and I saw photos on Instagram. His daughter and I are close pals, having had many play dates when she was a little girl. I adore him -- he's wise, honest and bold and he treasures his family.
So I was a little surprised they didn't let me know they were so close, at the beach near our house. Just so I could go sip coffee with them, or take a barefoot walk in the sand. Whatever. But see them! They are very dear friends. So I texted him asking why he didn't let me know in advance. He said they needed time alone.
I get it. Life is outrageously intense these days for humans. I get it. It isn't personal.
And then I realized I had a request. Could I take this to a new level in becoming a better communicator? I asked myself. Or is it no big deal, just to be let go? The answer within me was to make a request. So I did. I left him a voice message asking if he's willing to learn from the situation with me, and hear my request. I asked: Would he, next time he is near me, just let me know in advance? If they wanted alone time, I could accept that. Truly, giving space is easy for me and 99% of the time I don't take things personally. I need two days of alone time every month. But knowing they would be near me, I realized, would feel good to me. He could say "no" to my request -- it wasn't a demand. I sent the message.
Blank. Ignored again.
Between two of these people, I get the sense I'm "too much" for them. Leave it alone, Rios, it's no big thing. Well guess what? If it is to me, it is to me. And I matter. If you care, you can extend just a few words to show it.
When I wrote long emails years ago, or when I write a long letter these days, sometimes people feel silly writing a few words back. Please don't feel silly writing just a few words back -- writing nothing is way worse than writing a few words back.
Being ignored can leave someone in an empty space, wondering. Is that the impact you intend to have?
"Thanks for the note! I'm busy at work... sending you a hug!"
"I hear you and I need space right now."
"I care for you and am just not available to talk. Let's chat next week."
Whatever it is, show love. Please don't ignore people. Babies learn the world is an unsafe place when they are ignored for too long. It hurts adults, too. If someone is being mean spirited and really off-base, calling you names and insulting you, take space! Yes, don't lean into violence and expose yourself to abuse. But if someone simply asks for help, or doesn't communicate the way you do -- ignoring is not the loving way.
As I laid in bed yesterday, the left side of my head ripping apart from the inside with constant pressing pain, it felt like the end of a burning softball bat was pressing against my blood vessels. Migraine #8 has been an acutely painful dance. Life from here on out must look different. I cannot live with this kind of pain. I must hear the message it is meant to bring. I surrender.
Have you been in pain like this? Are you among the 19% of women with migraines or chronic back pain, or some other bodily agony? What about your child – are you a mother whose child lives with Crohn’s Disease, another autoimmune disorder, a vaccine related injury or some other kind of pain?
Pain is, above all things, a messenger. Suffering does not need to happen as long as we listen to the message that pain brings and tune in to what is being asked of us – we are, in pain, always being asked… something.
On the very bright side, there is unlimited love right at our very own fingertips. We can speak sweet words to ourselves in our own minds. This nurtures our hearts. We can tend to our physical pain with massage, acupuncture, plant medicine. This nurtures our body. We can take time for ourselves to be spacious, rather than planning too much. This tends to our soul. We can tend to our own body, heart, and soul in many ways and this is always available to us at no cost, with no delay, and with no limits.
How rich we are, that we can love ourselves like this! That we can model for our children what it means to care for the self. That we can create a reality, by “being the change we wish to see in the world” as Gandhi said – a world that is more gentle, more kind, more delightful than before we found it.
Beyond the riches of our own capacity for self-love, there lies an oceanic swell of love felt for us by others. Whether or not we see it, it is absolutely there.
As my most painful migraine thus far carried on, the option of caring for it “all by myself” disappeared. There was no way I could function; I had to call for help. At 6:30am one morning, a neighbor went out into the world to buy medicine and bring it to my doorstep, while my brain felt as if it were about to explode. What was going on in my head? I didn’t know. But I did know I needed help, and he rose to the occasion before the sun came up.
That was when it became clear this was no time to pretend I was independent. We need each other.
A chorus of compassion started singing in my head. I thought of all the other women in the world who experience painful migraines. I thought of the men who do, too. Many of those women and men don’t have friendly neighbors who’ll run errands at the crack of dawn – or worse yet, they don’t have the inner self worth to ask for the help in the first place. My heart swelled with compassion for the emptiness, the hole, the sad state of being so many people live in while living with pain. My life is full of soulfully rich relationships. Many people’s lives are not. And even with rich relationships, life presents significant, sometimes lengthy and seemingly insurmountable challenges. How tough must it be for those people who don’t have this kind of relationship wealth in their lives?
Sidled up to my compassion for others who experience migraines is a batch of compassion for mothers who wanted to give birth vaginally and ended up with a C-section. Some mothers truly mourn the loss of the labor they dreamed of; others are fine with whatever turned out. I feel for the ones who felt a loss, as I too experienced labor-related trauma, even though it was after a vaginal home birth.
Sidled up next to these compassion wells is a deep bay of feeling for those who struggle with emotional eating, overindulging in sugary foods, and deep loneliness. I have faced these dark valleys, and they are not sweetened by the breath of spring lilacs. There is charcoal lining the way. What I would give – I’d give a lot – to soothe the aches and sorrows of anyone suffering along these painful trails.
That’s a lot of compassion. And it’s only my own.
I thought of all the friends and family who offered – from the abundant goodness in their hearts – acupuncture and massage and magnesium in the mail and child care, care packages at my doorstep and fiercely empowering text messages to my very soul. The mountain of compassion embodied in these hearts astounded me.
How sad it is that anyone on Earth ever feels alone in their pain. How unnecessary and inappropriate this is, when every woman, man and child on this planet has access to this riveting chorus of kindness, love, compassion.
There is only the space of one single thought in between any single person – you, your partner, your child, your mother, your neighbor or best friend, or the homeless person on the city sidewalk – and this chorus of compassion that can soothe all the pain in the world. Sit with this. If your child lives with pain, if you live with pain, stop pretending this is not available to you.
All the love in the world belongs to all of us; it is no one’s alone and could never be.
Let us teach our children, first by modeling ourselves, the importance of self-care for a life well lived. That their mother and father are worth all the asking for help, all the affirming mantras, all the pauses and song that are needed to fill up one precious human soul in the busyness of life lived these days.
When our child is in pain, let us show them how to treat it like a friend – to listen to it, to love it like it has something important to say. It does. And our children, energetic masters of feeling and presence, will be glad to step up into seeing their pain as the messenger it is. Let us remind them of the compassion-filled universe awaiting their requests, their calling, their ask. Let us help them lead the way.
Jessica Rios, Founder of Leaning into Light, is a lifelong letter writer, Love-based leader and eternal fan of Mr. Rogers. This deeply personal blog and our free recorded conversations are devoted to one of her greatest passions: illuminating the beauty of the human spirit.