I have lived with chronic pain since 2004. At 45 years old, I was diagnosed with thyroid cancer. The cancer had spread to lymph nodes in the right side of my neck. Fortunately, surgery was successful. I have been cancer free ever since, going on 15 years. But the invasive surgery left me with nerve pain from just below my right ear, down the right side of my neck, across the top of my right shoulder, and down the front and right of my shoulder and back. The pain remains to this day: a dull ache, heaviness, muscle spasms, tingling, and the “pins and needles” sensation commonly associated with nerve pain.
I see a pain management team quarterly at one of the premier cancer rehab centers in the country. They continue to treat me with a cocktail of daily prescription pain-relieving medications, and a prescription gel at night to calm the spasms. On a scale of 0 to 10, with 0 being pain-free and 10 being the greatest pain I have ever experienced, my daily pain varies between a 4 and a 6. Without this pain-relieving treatment, my pain level would likely be a 10. This combination of treatments has relieved my pain well enough to remain a productive member of society.
But in 2014, I met Loch Kelly. I was in my first year at One Spirit Interfaith Seminary studying to be an interfaith and interspiritual minister. Loch is faculty at One Spirit where he teaches his contemporary meditations of effortless mindfulness, bringing in psychology and neuroscience. Loch’s simple but direct approach, what he calls open-hearted awareness, drew me in instantly. Here was a practice that opened me to a place both deep within and way outside my body. Once I learned those exercises, those “small glimpses, many times,” my pain dissipated immediately. Though my pain slowly climbed back to my standard 4 to 6 level, for the first time in 10 years I had a brief experience of being completely pain-free.
I have read Loch’s book, Shift Into Freedom, listened to his audio meditations, and attended a few in-person events. Each time he teaches me to deepen the awake-awareness experience, and each time I become more aware of my “pain body,” and for a few blissful moments each day can let go of pain entirely. Most recently, I spent a weekend with Loch where he taught “effortless mindfulness.” This path to open-hearted awareness reveals a quality of spaciousness, flow and equilibrium with the universe These modern versions of ancient meditation practices, confirmed by neuroscience, bring me an even longer period of pain-free existence.
I am still on my meds, but they have been reduced by about 30% over the last 4 years of practicing Loch’s methods. And now I know what it feels like to be pain-free, even just for a short time. This reduction in pain is a precious side-effect of the path to open-hearted awareness.
Today I am an ordained interfaith and interspiritual minister, and I am a lawyer at a nonprofit firm. I work with groups of law students in a clinic helping homeless and low-income people maintain their public benefits. This is stressful work, where vicarious trauma is a real risk to the case handler. I teach my students Loch’s effortless mindfulness exercises for relief and healing from work stress. As an interspiritual counselor, I also use Loch’s methods to assist my counselees with both their emotional and physical pain. I practice effortless mindfulness each day, sometimes even while riding the subway. And each day, my chronic pain disappears, even if just for a little while, while each time giving me a brief glimpse into living open-heartedly.
*Note: This is a guest post written by Rev. Christopher J. Portelli*
For more information, see Loch’s book and audio of meditations, Shift Into Freedom