By C. B. Cabeen
Midway through the second trimester, my ribs started hurting around the bra line, like something was cutting into them. It wasn’t my bra’s fault, though, because taking it off didn’t help, and changing bras didn’t help. It messed with my ability to exercise and cook dinner, and after a few weeks I was sick of it. I was even more sick of hearing myself talk about it.
So many of the ways we describe pain are boring. If I describe exactly where my ribs hurt, how much does that really tell you about my experience? Does rating my pain on a scale from one to ten make it easier for me to connect with you? That kind of information may be useful to doctors or at the start of a conversation, but surely, I thought, there’s a better way to describe and relate to what I’m feeling here.
Taking a medical view of our bodies turns pregnancy into a series of symptoms with no particular significance. The emotional openness many women feel becomes nothing but hormones, and all the aches and nausea become just another thing to go through for the sake of your baby. But our bodies’ stories’ are richer than this. Sometimes aches curl around secret parts of ourselves waiting to be born, and sometimes they summon us to grow into new lives. Sometimes pain isn’t a point of disconnection, so much as it’s a path of connection to the divine. The following exercise changed how I understood the pain in my ribs and helped me identify better ways of interacting with it.
What Color Is Your Pain?
During everyday life, I mostly keep my attention located in my head. Pain from distant body parts may colonize my consciousness, but when I experience that discomfort from in my head, I usually find myself in an adversarial relationship with it. I think most of us work that way.
Take a moment to get in touch with the point where your consciousness is right now, and then move it toward the part of your body that hurts. Drop down into your pain and take a look around. What color is your pain? What does it look like? Or if you prefer, does it have a scent? What does it sound like? Does it have a message for you?
If you start this exercise and feel like your answers are still coming from inside your head, try asking your pain more specific questions. For example, imagine a vibrant purple filling up the ache. What does the ache look like and feel like, now that it’s glowing purple? Slowly start moving through the colors–what does the ache feel like if it’s blue? green? yellow?–until something takes off.
What I found when I moved down into my chest was bread-white ribs washed with blood like wine: I saw my own body celebrating the Eucharist. Now, this may not seem like a pagan thing to say, but inside my chest Yahweh was working. Ultimately it’s not such a strange place to meet the lord who lives in broken things and unfolds himself through history (in this case, through the permanent, you-can-never-go-back experience of becoming a mother). Whenever my ribs hurt after that, I prayed to open up the space around my heart, so that there would be room for both the baby and myself. The sensation that something was cutting into my chest began to feel more like something stretching, and the feeling stopped bothering me.
Other pains may call for other measures, of course. I haven’t tried this approach for nausea or for sudden, sporadic pains, so I’m not sure where its limits are or how it might be adapted to other circumstances. If you try “What color is your pain?” and don’t mind talking about it, drop me a comment. I’m curious to hear what other people do with this magic.
Christina is an eclectic witch orbiting Reclaiming. She enjoys finding ways to ritualize activities that aren’t traditionally religious–most especially indie tabletop roleplaying and scuba diving–and incorporate them into her spiritual path. For the last two years, Christina’s spirituality has focused on motherhood. Her ruminations on parenting can be found at Mouthing the World.