or: A Day at the Spa

Today was (my sister) Karen’s actual 30th birthday, so she and I decided to celebrate by spending some time at the Boar’s Head Spa. Karen decided to go all out and so she spent much of the day there in the hydrotherapy tub and enjoying a 90 minute aromatherapy massage before I joined her for a facial and manicure.

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Just as an aside, the big white fluffy robe they gave me to wear barely fit, which should make for a fun adventure when I come back for a massage on my own birthday! Heh.

Anyway, why did I title this post “sensation vs. pain” when I’m talking about a luxurious afternoon at the spa? Well — my mind had plenty of time to wander while I was getting my facial, breathing in steam and the aroma of the all-natural grapefruit-scented serum my aesthetician was applying. The music — that sort of tuneless flute music spas often play and which I totally secretly love — reminded me of the kind of music the instructor played at the start of our yoga class yesterday, and something that she said came back to me. I wish I could remember how she worded it, but she basically reminded us to make room for sensation in our yoga practice. Stop if there’s pain, she said, but breathe into sensation.

And that got me thinking about my grief. I think what I’m trying to do right now is make room for the sensation of grief in my life — not just the pain of it — like, if you want to go with me here for a second, like I’m lying back in saddle pose.

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Does that look relaxing? It isn’t. The first time I did this pose, I could barely think straight, I was so consumed with trying to maintain my peace of mind. I almost wanted to panic at first — I was afraid I would get stuck in the pose, I was afraid that this wasn’t actually possible for my body — but as the moments slid slowly by, I just started breathing into the stretch until I felt a concurrent sense of calm along with the challenge of the pose. And I realized that I wasn’t actually in any pain. This was a difficult place for my body and my mind to be, but it wasn’t painful in the sense that I couldn’t do it or needed to stop. And that, to me, is the difference between sensation and pain, and I think it’s a lot like grief.

Like I said the other day, I think living with sadness and grief does not always have to mean feeling sad, and it has to do with the difference between sensation and pain. There’s no sugarcoating the pain I went through after my second miscarriage and after my mother died; there were times when I honestly wished I was already dead and free of this life. There were days I couldn’t stop crying and couldn’t get out of bed. That is pain. But the pain of my miscarriages has, in time, morphed slowly into sensation. That doesn’t mean I don’t feel anything — but it means that what I feel is different now. It’s the difference between the deep, intense stretch of saddle pose or the last mile or two of a ten-mile run and (what I imagine to be) the pain of a broken leg or a blinding migraine. I can feel that concurrent sense of calm.

The pain of losing my mom is also, very slowly, transitioning into sensation. If we want to continue the analogy of saddle pose, I think what I’m feeling is that initial I-don’t-think-I-can-do-this-but-I’ll-just-keep-breathing-breathing-breathing. The calm will come, but I think I will be trying to breathe into this sensation for the rest of my life.

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