Our next weekend workshop will be held this summer at the Omega Institute in Rhinebeck, NY. The dates are Friday evening, June 29th until Sunday noon, July 1st. The intent of the program is to create a structured safe environment where you can connect to your capacity to heal through shared experiences.
Learning to enjoy life
We have been evolving for millions of years and human consciousness began with the cognitive revolution about 70,000 years ago. (1) Additionally, the unconscious brain is a million times stronger than the conscious brain and although we often know our behavior is less than ideal the behavioral patterns always win. We are not designed to have a good time. That is a learned skill.
Dr. Luskin, a friend of mine and author of Forgive for Good has taught me a lot about anger, forgiveness and the body’s need to protect itself. One of his points has been that the human organism has only one function – and that is to survive. So, your brain is constantly scanning the environment for danger, analyzing every sensory input.
There are few times and places where you can feel safe. Life is competitive and it’s challenging to get a break. School has many layers of stress. Bullying is rampant. Close friends often turn on each other. Social media has intruded on privacy and quiet time. Research has shown that only about a third of families are relatively free of chaos. Other stressful arenas include sports, music, the arts, employment, and social status. Where’s there a place to rest?
Additionally, when you are suffering from chronic pain you are really trapped. You’re being attacked by your own nervous system. As your body is subjected to sustained levels of stress chemicals, such as adrenaline, cortisol, histamines and endorphins you will experience a myriad of other physical symptoms. It has been shown that the impact of chronic pain on your life is equivalent to suffering from terminal cancer. (2) The problem with chronic pain is that there usually isn’t an endpoint. It is a terrible state of being.
The Omega weekend is focused on re-connecting people with each other, which helps a person in pain connect to themselves. It is tightly structured with a lot of sharing of enjoyable experiences. Many of the activities are held in small groups of four or five. Participants can feel safe and it’s remarkable how quickly healing occurs. Much of the weekend is spent in play, which is a great venue to feel safe. We quickly realized after the first seminar in 2013 that we didn’t have to do much after we set up the weekend. Participants healed each other. It is also a remarkable experience for us being in the presence of those who are so supportive of each other.
The seminar is based on:
- Awareness – You have to understand a problem before you can solve it.
- Hope – most people in pain have lost hope of a solution. We’ll share many success stories.
- Forgiveness – You have to let go before you can move forward.
- Play – We all have the capacity to play but it often gets buried in the morass of life and pain. It is the most powerful way to move forward.
Many of the participants experienced significant shifts in their pain and mood during the weekend. The hope is that you’ll reconnect to the part of your brain that already knows how to enjoy life. The solution to pain is not trying to fix it but to first learn to be comfortable with it, separate and then move away from it. As you quit fighting the pain, it will lose its energy and diminish. This process is the main focus of Saturday morning – “The ring of fire”.
Family dynamics and pain
Human connection is a basic need and how consciousness evolved. People who are socially isolated have a similar area of the brain light up as in being in pain. It’s common, if not the rule, to become progressively isolated when in pain. You just don’t have the energy to interact with others. Then the loneliness becomes crushing. People will often endure terrible domestic abuse just to avoid being alone. One of the most perverse aspects of the human experience is that we turn to our family for meaningful connection and the deeper the relationships the better – except the closer the relationship the more powerful the triggers that set off anxiety and anger. At the same time the family can provide the deepest sense of safety, it is also the most vulnerable and most unpredictable area of life. Saturday afternoon will be focused on the role of the family in both healing and exacerbating pain. I warn the group that once you’re home and back amongst your triggers, the pain will return. But you have tasted freedom and will continue to evolve the tools return to it more and more quickly.
We request that the participants become familiar with the DOC concepts and be actively engaged in using the basic tools. The intention is to deepen your healing journey and support each other. Commonly, the process provides the needed push to propel you onto your new life. The group will be limited to 30 people to keep it interactive.
Some of the stories
We have dozens of great stories emerging from the weekend. One remarkable story is about a young man who flew in from Toronto to the Seattle workshop. He had been struggling with substance abuse problems for over 10 years and had been clean for about 8 months prior to the workshop. He had been through three stints of comprehensive rehab and desperately wanted to get on with a productive life. He was quiet but interactive and asked great questions. I wasn’t sure how much of an impact all of this was making on him. I talked to him a few months later and he had returned to a difficult situation where his “friend” and roommate had stolen money from him. He said that historically he would have remained angry and probably would have gone back to the drugs. He was able to use the DOC strategies to calm down and come out of his reactive mode quickly. I had a great conversation with him. He said the crux of his success was that, “I let the pain in. I’m no longer on the run.”
A middle-aged businesswoman had been experiencing pain in her right tailbone for over seven years and had difficulty sitting. She also was experiencing over 20 other symptoms of a fired up nervous system. I looked over her intake questionnaire and wasn’t sure she would benefit from the course. Over the last two days of workshop she experienced a marked decrease in her pain and it disappeared over the following weekend. She is continuing to thrive, got married and returned to part-time work. We have stayed in touch with her triumphs and struggles.
One woman had been experiencing chronic headaches for over 10 years. She had also developed abdominal pain and right leg pain that was persistent for a couple of years. She shared with us that she had been walking in the Omega garden on Tuesday, when her whole body seemed to have a deep reaction. She was passing by some rocks that others had written on. They were short tributes. She stopped and wrote a short poem honoring a stillborn baby that died two years earlier. She had never gotten to see her before she was buried. She woke up Wednesday morning without a headache for the first time in 10 years, her leg pain disappeared, as well as her abdominal pain. Needless to say, the whole group was stunned. She had no pain the rest of the week and has continued to enjoy life for the last four years.
We are looking forward to meeting this new group and have enjoyed remaining in touch with many of the alumni.
- Harari, Yuval Noah. Sapiens. Harper Collins, NY, 2015.
- O’Connor AB. Neuropathic pain: quality-of-life impact, costs and cost effectiveness of therapy. Pharmacoeconomics. 2009;27(2):95- 112.
- Fredheim OM, Kaasa S, Fayers P, Saltnes T, Jordhøy M, Bortchgrevink PC. Chronic non-malignant pain patients report as poor health-related quality of life as palliative cancer patients. Acta Anaesthesiol Scand. 2008;52(1):143-148