Seneca The Wise and the Healing Process
By Beth Blair
December 8, 2017
Recently, a friend shared a video where the speaker quoted the Stoic Seneca, “We suffer more in imagination than in reality.” Watching this video connected some percolating threads that have been weaving through my thoughts of late. It is not surprising that an old friend described me as stoic as a teenager. So, before I continue, I will give you the Merriam-Webster Definition of Stoic/stoic: “a member of a school of philosophy founded by Zeno of Citium about 300 b.c. holding that the wise man should be free from passion, unmoved by joy or grief, and submissive to natural law; one apparently or professedly indifferent to pleasure or pain.”
Now there are juicy and useful quotes from the likes of Stoic Philosophers that can help us in our everyday life. I am not planning on running off to become a full fledge Stoic and, I do want to be moved by passion, joy and grief even. I can see how I did use this Stoic philosophy to deal with my crippling chronic back pain from disc degeneration about 15 years ago. Maybe deep down, I am a Stoic and I don’t even know it! Some of the most influencing quotes that I can connect to my personal experience and quite possibly use to help my clients that have chronic pain are these:
“We suffer more in imagination than in reality.”
“Only time heals what reason cannot.”
“If you really want to escape the things that harass you,
what you’re needing is not to be in a different place but be a different person.”
Please understand, I am not making light of chronic pain. I lived with it and suffered with it for years. At some point, I guess I did become indifferent to my pain, as the definition suggests. I would say, I not only became a different person, I did move to a different place…in my consciousness. The short story of my pain is that I have 3 degenerative discs in my low back and a bonus vertebrae. The pain was caused by nerve impingement and was debilitating at times, caused lack of sleep, limited activity and pretty much stole the joy from my life. I was hyper-focus on my pain because it was constantly infront of me! The search for remedies, cures, causes, solutions was endless. My thoughts were focused on trying to resolve it, juggling appointments for it, explaining why I could do something because of it or just being plain grumpy.
Looking at these wise words from Seneca, “We suffer more in imagination than in reality,” is a sticky place when talking to a person in pain. The pain is real, BUT being hyper-focused on it causes the brain to relive the pain over and over again, so is that “live or Memorex”? The brain treats an original experience of pleasure and pain and the remembered experience of pleasure and pain the same. It doesn’t know the difference. So, was I hyping up my pain experience by talking about it all the time? Booking appointments? Focusing on finding the answers? This pain and the process consumed my life. It was who I thought I was…and the FEAR of who I would be without it lingered on the fringes, that I didn’t realize I was claiming pain as my identity. Another famous Stoic Epictetus said, “Is this something, that is, or is not in my control?”
The pain was “something” alright! But the real question, what about this was in my control? I could choose how I handled it, think about it and live with it. The treatment I was getting kept me focused on the pain and only helped from appointment to appointment. It was frustrating and disheartening, until…I found a brief window of relief…an hour a week in a Tai Chi class. I only practice at the class and it took me out of my pain thoughts. It took me to a different place and with it I became a different person. Some would say it was MAGIC. It certainly was powerful and, yet I limited my practice to just once a week?? It is easy to look in the rearview mirror and say, “I would have been cured sooner if I had practiced daily.” Master Seneca said, “Only time can heal what reason cannot.” I guess that wisdom applies here because, I was cured…in a year. I went to that class religiously. I got stronger in mind and body. By the end of that year I had full range of motion in my back and the rest of my body, no pain and I was sleeping and active. This class prepared me for what was next…my study of Energy, healing and much more.
This pain was harassing me…it was stealing my life because I was letting it! I had to shift who I was to allow myself to be more than this pain. I don’t think I became indifferent or unmoved by joy or grief…I do think I submitted to natural law…the law of Energy and the CHI (Life Force) flow that taught me, healed me and partners with me every day. I don’t preach this story to every chronic pain client that crosses my threshold. They may not be ready to face this task, this gauntlet, this labyrinth of healing. The mind and thoughts are hard things to tame. The power to heal comes not from outside yourself, but through yourself. There is not a doctor, shaman, medicine woman/man, massage therapist, Reiki Master, Jedi Master that can heal you without your cooperation AND your Body and Soma’s willingness to heal. Each person has the power to heal themselves…so why go to a healer, therapist or doctor? They partner with you, they can navigate the gauntlet or labyrinth WITH you. They have experience, BUT they don’t have YOUR experience…that is the key ingredient to YOUR healing. It was the key to mine.
Two more powerful and useful quotes from my dear friend Seneca… “Most powerful is he who has himself in his power.” And… “Associate with people who are likely to improve you.” This is what really healed me. I found MY power in that weekly Tai Chi class AND I was surrounding myself with people that helped me be a better ME. This is always my offer to my client, friends and people I meet…how can I help you be you? I never force healing on a client…I don’t tell them things they aren’t ready to hear… I allow the space needed for the person’s discovery. I am not afraid to stand WITH someone in pain and I hold space for them as the Divine person they are, pain and all. Here is a hard truth…not every person with pain wants to be free from it. The FEAR of who they might be with out it may be too great! The pain has been their constant companion for a long time. That is their journey and when they are ready to move to that different place and BE that different person, as Seneca described, they will. Blessings and Peace.