Deepak Chopra and my Polish bubbee [grandmother] seem to have very little in common, but they both helped shape who I am today.
Deepak has dedicated his life to the healing of others through exploration of the mind body spirit connection and the nature of reality. Whereas, my bubbee survived the Holocaust and spent the rest of her decades cold, bitter and reeling from the physical, emotional and spiritual pain borne from unresolved trauma and chronic stress. She was a strong, intelligent woman who mourned the loss of her son every year until the day she died. Her anguish was visible. She often wore a grimace and her abrupt, hostile judgements were jolting and often times, unjust. I wish I understood her pain then the way I do now.
As a young teenager, I found myself somewhere in between searching for healing and trying to escape the unspoken grief and debilitating fear my family lived with.
I remember a car ride with my mom, where she was listening to a tape of some guy called Deepak Chopra on the way to visit my bubbee. He spoke of the meaning of life, synchronicities and universal consciousness. Normally she would indulge my obsessive chatter about music, fashion, dance, friends and boys, but this time she was quiet. Captivated. Connected. Present to life and love.
I, on the other hand, was filled with dread at seeing my bubbee, who was always critical of me. She would judge my hair, my stories and immediately ask where my brother was when I walked through the door. I never felt good enough for her, and resented the way she so clearly favored my brother. What I didn’t understand at the time was that she had lost her only son to starvation, and remained crippled by sadness and anxiety.
Later traumas in my own life extended the suffering I inherited from my grandmother, and my mother. Yet a desire to know myself and a force greater than myself inspired me to study Integrative Restoration Yoga Nidra ®, Somatic Experiencing® and other mind body practices.
And so when more than 20 years after that car ride, I was invited to teach at “Chopra Center’s Perfect Health: Health from the Pain” retreat sponsored by the Chopra Center, I accepted with honor and humility, feeling privileged to contribute to the solace, hope and healing his work has created for so many, including my mom.
The Chopra Center is a very nurturing place where people come from all over the world to find balance, healing, rejuvenation and spiritual insights. The teachings are primarily based on the path of yoga, Ayurvedic medicine—one of the oldest holistic healing systems from India– and Jyotish astrology, Indian astrology that relies on the positions of the plans. They offer a large variety of programs, beautiful accommodations and incredible customer service.
Teaching at the Chopra Center for Well-Being allowed me to give back what was given to me. It was part of my karmic path and helped me understand the path of my soul. By sharing the extensive information and practices I have developed with the participants, I grew to understand my bubbee and to serve Deepak the way he served my mother.
May these three universal truths provide comfort and solace along your journey:
1) Emotions and thoughts have a role in physical pain.
Heartache and painful breakups are “more than just metaphors,” says Ethan Kross, Ph.D., the lead researcher and an assistant professor of psychology at the University of Michigan, in Ann Arbor.
Emotional and physical pain operate identically in the brain. Brain scans show that once pain signals reach the brain, three areas light up simultaneously. In addition to the sensory cortex, which governs sensation, there is activity in the areas that organize thought and beliefs and control emotions. In other words, we must look at our sensations, emotions, thoughts and beliefs in addition to our physical pain to facilitate healing and recovery. Next time you feel pain, locate a place (prefrontal cortex-thought) in your body that feels the opposite of the sensation (sensory cortex) of pain and investigate if an emotion (emotional brain/limbic system) is connected to what is surfacing.
2) Trauma and pain (emotional and physical) often operate in a vicious cycle.
Previous traumas such as an accident or injury, abuse, disease, war or even intergenerational trauma, can cause pain, while pain itself can be traumatizing. For example, if you had chronic neck pain and felt the pain surfacing, the fear of the pain could exacerbate it in a significant way. If you experienced a break up and heard music that reminded you of your ex-lover, the trauma and emotional pain of the break up might surface when you heard the song. Try cultivating an attitude of curiosity and write down the emotions that arise related to emotional and physical pain in your body.
3) Pain can be a gateway to the True Self.
As we learn to trust and listen to what is arising in the body — instead of suppress, repress or resent the pain — we can employ practices that can bring about pleasure and deep connection. Whenever there is pain, pleasure is always around the corner. It may take work to locate it, but there is always a fluid dance between pain and pleasure. As we simultaneously experience what seem to be opposite ends of the spectrum, we learn to move beyond them toward a place of wholeness, peace and infinite love. From this place, we realize the True Self.
Pain can be seductive. While experiencing pain, it can be tough to access anything other than what is known in Somatic Experiencing ® as the “trauma vortex”. The trauma vortex, or energy and pain of the trauma, can become a downward spiral. But we have to journey through the vortex — not above, below or around it. The most valuable lesson I’ve learned is that this does not mean focusing on the pain, enduring and bearing it until we become exhausted and hopeless. It means finding support, knowing we are more than the pain and that we are being held and guided by a benevolent force and energy of love. Through my journey, I’ve come to understand that it is less about the pain itself, than my experience and identification with the pain.
I created an acronym for PAIN for us to always remember- Pleasure Always Is Near™.
My bubbee didn’t have a chance to understand this, but I dedicate my journey to her and hope that I can help others work through their pain.
Thank you, Deepak Chopra and the Chopra Center, for the opportunity to serve in this profound way. Bubbee and Mom, ikh kvud deyn nsyeh vi vomen. “I honor your journey as women.”
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