The Core Wound

After days and days of greyness, the sun finally came out this week, glinting over everything, revealing the deep, perfect blue of the sky. Suddenly, a gust of wind blew through my back yard, causing the branches of the old, hickory tree outside my window to wave up and down, back and forth. It seemed as if the tree was waving at me, and smiling.

Unexpectedly moved, I began to cry.

This is not the first time I’ve cried on my yoga mat. But the sudden surge of tears still took me by surprise. What was that all about?

In the past, I would’ve just brushed away my tears impatiently and got on with my practice. But recently, I’ve been delving a little deeper, and done a lot more inner probing. Now, instead of turning my attention elsewhere, I zoom in. Where did those tears come from? What do they signify? Why is there that sore spot in my heart, and what is it trying to tell me?

I’ve long heard of the idea of a core wound, or a sacred wound. This wound is said to be a place of deep hurt that guides our actions, and is the reason behind many of our life choices.

Usually inflicted upon us at some point in our childhood, we arm ourselves against it, and this armour can be very difficult to pierce. Survival within our family or community usually requires us to remain dutiful and smiling, so instead of probing our pain or questioning it, we stuff it down deep inside. As children, we also lack the maturity required to heal it, so it can fester within us for years.

But as we age, and gather more financial and emotional security, we can start to feel safe. This is when life circumstances may allow our core wound to be uncovered, finally calling it up from our subconscious mind to be healed.

This core wound doesn’t necessarily have to be something major, like emotional or physical trauma, although something like that would certainly qualify. It could also be something like parental neglect, or the death of a parent at a young age. Perhaps we were betrayed by a sibling, or felt guilt for being unharmed in an accident while a friend or relative was badly injured. Maybe there remains a deep feeling of deficiency after a major illness.

I’ve heard of the idea of a core wound before, but never really knew what mine was. While I’ve certainly carried plenty of baggage from my past, I could never discern that one wound, the one that encompassed all the others. The one that all the other wounds folded into.

Somehow, while lying on my yoga mat this week, that core wound finally crept up into my consciousness. I think it arose because I’ve been practising a lot of openness and acceptance of myself during my daily yoga practice. And what it said was: “I am a bad person. A person who is wrong in some fundamental way. I’m not just a person broken by circumstance, but someone who doesn’t even know the right thing to do. A person whose very instincts are incorrect, and not to be trusted”.

As these feelings and thoughts arose within me, I found I was able to hold them tenderly, something I don’t think I’ve had the capacity to do before. I recognized them, and understood where they came from. And though they did sadden me, a flood of compassion quickly filled my heart and I was able to accept my pain with care.

Bill Plotkin, psychologist, author, and wilderness guide, says our core wounds do not necessarily need to be healed. In fact, it may not be possible to heal them. This is a relief to me, as I don’t even begin to know how to fix mine. But Plotkin goes even further, saying our core wounds may even be necessary. Without them, without the need forge ahead into something better, away from the pain of our past, we may fail to move forward in life.

There’s also something much deeper going on here, though. Our core wounds are not just a heavy weight for us to carry. They also hold the potential for profound healing. As the poet Rumi famously said, “The wound is the place where the light enters you.”

This is where our life purpose can be found. Just as an irritating piece of sand at the centre of a clam shell can eventually turn into a pearl, so our core wound is the sore spot, that, with careful tending, can bring a startling beauty, not just to ourselves, but to our entire community. If we are brave enough to delve deeply into it, to fix our gaze directly at it, and hold its pain with gentleness and compassion, there is treasure to be found.

That day on my yoga mat, as the tears rolled down my face, I finally began to understand my own core wound. And as I did, a wave of empathy hit me. I finally began to understand why I’ve fallen into so many black holes throughout my life. Why I’ve struggled so much to listen to my own heart.

With gentleness, I allowed myself to feel its heaviness, and the sadness within it. So far, it has given me no answers. If there is a treasure to be found within this pain, I don’t yet know what it is, but at the very least I’m no longer running away from it. I’m still and I’m listening.

Where Is Your Pain?

TCM Gallbladder Meridian

Have you ever taken a good look at the gallbladder meridian? Like, really closely? It’s crazy!

It’s the third longest meridian in the human body, with 44 different acupuncture points. Only the stomach meridian and urinary bladder meridian are longer, with 45 and 67 points, respectively . But the stomach and urinary bladder meridians, though longer, are easier to learn because their points mostly line up. The gallbladder meridian zigs and zags all over the place. As TCM students back in the day, it made us all sigh in frustration.

It starts at the outer part of the eye, then abruptly moves to the corner of the jaw, rising quietly along the hairline at the side of the head, before winding itself around the ear, then escaping back up to the top of the head, jumping down to the side of the neck, and then winding jerkily down the entire side of the body, ending at the outer side of the 4th toe.

I used to wonder how TCM doctors even figured this stuff out. How did they know the energy of the gallbladder mapped itself onto this weird line of energy that made such startling leaps and jumps? Why were they so sure that these precise points were important, and not some other adjacent spots?

We’re told that it was a long process of trial and error, combined with acute observation, over a period of thousands of years. As a student, you try not to question it too much, and just accept it all as fact. It’s only when you see a patient with pain running along that exact line, in that weird, zig-zagging fashion, that you begin to see the genius of it all.

I had a client like that this week. She had this weird pain starting in the soft tissue of her butt, and then radiating down the entire outside of her leg, all the way down to her little toe. It was so exactly the bottom part of the gallbladder meridian, it may as well have been lit up like a string of Christmas lights. It was fascinating, really.

In treating people with gallbladder problems, I often hear complaints of pain in the right side, just under the rib cage. That is typical. Sometimes, the pain can radiate up to the base of the shoulder blade and then up the side of the neck. I see that a lot too. But leg pain is more unusual.

Luckily, this client had several of our liver/gallbladder tinctures in her cupboard and took them as advised. An hour later she called me back, relieved, to say that her searing pain had gone. Like magic!

When I first met my mother-in-law, Julia, I had never even heard of Traditional Chinese Medicine. I might have heard of acupuncture before, but back then, it still had that woo-woo, foreign, wackiness factor attached to it. If you had told me that one day I’d be treating people with Chinese herbs, tracing their lines of pain along acupuncture meridians, I would never have believed you. I wouldn’t have even known what you were talking about.

And yet, here I am. Thoroughly immersed in the stuff. I feel fortunate that I’m able to help people with this knowledge, although I often feel pretty wacky myself. When I listen to myself trying to explain certain TCM concepts to people, I know I sound ridiculous. Sometimes, I feel ridiculous! And yet, it works.

So, if you ever find yourself in pain, take a look at the gallbladder meridian and see if there’s a match. There are a lot of common pain points along its path. Shoulder, neck, or leg pain may not seem related to your gallbladder, but they often are. Then, ask yourself if you’ve you been eating a lot of fatty foods lately. How about spicy foods? Spicy foods will aggravate your liver and gallbladder too.

If you see a connection, give me a call, and I’ll set you up with some products that’ll help. It may not make sense that your neck or leg pain is somehow related to your gallbladder, but try not to think about it too much. Just know that thousands of years of trial and error have shown that there’s a connection. And specific herbs are known to work.

3 Crucial Steps to Recover from Burnout

Confession: I used to dread getting out of bed.

My mother-in-law had dementia, and I lived in the same house with her. This meant that I was regularly confronted by her as soon as I left my bedroom.

Sometimes, she would ask me a question over and over again. I would lose my patience as I answered her multiple times, with increasing irritation. I often lost my cool well before I left the house for the day.

Sometimes, she would be accusatory. Why did this happen? Why did I do this? Who was responsible? Whatever it was, it was surely someone else’s fault, even if it was obvious that she was the culprit. If you dared to suggest that it was actually her who did this thing, she would be indignant and scoff vehemently. In these cases, it was usually best to just drop the subject and quietly clean up the mess. You quickly learn that you can’t win arguments with people who have dementia.

Sometimes, I would arrive downstairs to find some disaster in progress. She couldn’t remember how to turn the stove on, and so was eating her eggs raw. Or there was a puddle of pee on the floor in the middle of the room. She had lost control of her bladder without even noticing. Again, no comment required. Just remedy the situation as best you can.

One day, she found some expired food in the refrigerator and was eating it, along with the blue-green mould on top of it. She thought it was healthy because it was green! A battle then ensued as I tried to take the mouldy food away from her, while she chased me through the house in an attempt to retrieve it. Sometimes, the absurdity of the situation made me laugh. Sometimes, it made me cry.

But I think you get my point. My bed was my safe place. Leaving it meant being confronted by some form of headache-inducing chaos. Naturally, I preferred to put that off as long as possible.

The thing is, for months and even years after we finally got my mother-in-law into a nursing home, I continued to have difficulty getting out of bed. It was like my heart had become wounded somehow. Or my faith in life. Probably both.

I tried reprimanding myself. Why was I so lazy? I never used to have such difficulty getting up in the morning! I worried about my work ethic. What had happened to it? It seemed to be permanently disabled.

When reprimands didn’t work, I tried thinking of rewards instead, like the grilled cheese sandwich I would prepare for myself later for lunch. Or the walk I would have with my dog after work. I relished being under the gracefully arching branches of the trees, with the sun warming my face. This helped somewhat. But though this got me out of bed, it didn’t restore my enthusiasm for life.

The fact was, I simply didn’t want to get out of bed anymore, and I didn’t know how to fix the problem.

It took me awhile to realize that I was suffering from a classic case of burnout. Well, maybe not classic. In classic burnout, you feel numbed by your life and uninspired by your daily activities. By the time you reach the stage of being unable to get out of bed in the morning, your burnout has reached epic proportions.

So, what did work? What finally helped me get out of bed?

Number One: Remember the things you loved to do as a child.

In my case, it was drawing. I used to love drawing when I was young. Art was always my favourite class in school. Although it took some coaxing from my mother and my older brother, I eventually signed up for an evening drawing class at the local art centre. And every time I went to that class, it was like life was breathing itself back into me.

Number Two: Treat yourself with exquisite kindness.

Beating myself up for my lack of initiative was not making me feel better. In fact, it was making me feel like even more of a failure. Although it seemed counter-intuitive, offering myself boatloads of compassion and kindness made me feel less tight and defensive. It allowed my heart some space to open. It gave me some room to heal. While kindness didn’t get me out of bed right away, it did loosen my huddle and paved the way for later expansion.

Number Three: Find a way to express your feelings.

One definition of burnout I’ve heard is “repressed emotions”. And I certainly had plenty of those. All the frustration, anger, fear, anxiety, dread, and sadness that my mother-in-law’s condition had inspired in me needed to be felt. I couldn’t keep pushing it down and pretending it didn’t exist. It was killing me. Or rather, it was keeping me in a deadened state.

This final point turned out to be a big insight. My body was so stuffed full of unfelt feelings that it had actually become numb. I never knew what I was feeling about anything anymore. Mostly, I just didn’t care. Allowing myself to feel all those difficult, challenging feelings – hard as it was – was life changing.

Every morning, I would settle onto my yoga mat, and essentially do nothing. I would lie in various restorative yoga poses, using props to support me, and gently check in with myself. Then, keeping my breath steady, I would allow myself to feel whatever feelings were there. Nothing was off limits. Anger, sadness, dread. All were welcome.

It took awhile to get this process started, but once my body began to feel safe, I was surprised at the different emotions that came up each day, usually with a boatload of tears. Gradually, the contours of physical body began to take shape again. I could feel the heaviness of my limbs on the ground, the tingling of the muscles along my spine as they began to soften and relax, the gentle opening of my hips. And then, finally, as my physical body began to relax, my mood became lighter. One day, I felt the gentle rise of energy within me, and cried with relief. I was finally returning to myself.

I still don’t know if I’m fully recovered from that awful case of burnout, but I do know that I feel much better. I don’t have any problems getting out of bed anymore. I look forward to my daily plans. I’m still not always as inspired as I’d like to be, but I feel confident this will come in time.

For now, I’m just enjoying becoming better acquainted with myself, feeling what I feel, doing the hobbies I like, and resting when I need to, without guilt or self-reproach. It’s a new way of life for me, and one I plan to continue.

If you are interested in doing some gentle, restorative yoga classes, consider stopping by my website at www.rebeccasrestfulyoga.com. You can attend a class live, or sign up for a monthly membership, where you’ll have access to dozens of already recorded classes, all taught by me – a person very familiar with burnout and all the emotions that come along with it. Please know that you’re not alone. Together, we can heal from the pain of burnout.