I was sitting with a group a short while ago. It was our third breathwork in two days, and the session was deep and powerful. Thanks to all the instruments we had with us we didn’t use much pre-recorded music, and the drums and flutes took us all deep into the forest – a shamanic journey with beats and rhythms that goaded the soul into its shadow.

Afterwards as we shared, one person declared. “The first two journeys were beautiful, rich and enlightening. But this morning, it’s different. I don’t feel any joy. I don’t feel much at all, other than the desire to…well, no… the lack of desire to live. I don’t really want to live anymore.” he concluded.

The silence was palpable, and I let it hang for a few moments, knowing that most of us in the room have felt just like that at one time or another. Even as you read this now, you may recall a moment when even hope was a stranger. I certainly do.

The closest I got to feeling that way with my own life was during ‘The Great Illness”, some 5 years ago. Parasites from Asia had invaded my body and I was but a shell of my former self. The pain was unbearable.

A dear friend came to visit me in my bedridden state and when I told her that death would be a welcome relief, she asked me:

“But who is it that wants to die?”

The question threw me.

“I do.” I answered.

“Yes I know you think you want to die, but I am asking you which part of you wants to die?”

I was a bit flummoxed, and mumbled something like “the part that hurts”. Duh.

Little did I know that by giving any answer at all I had opened my awareness to a choice. The act of locating the part that wished the pain to end had made me the witness of it, and being the observer was very different to being the sufferer. I had taken a step back from the pain to realize that it did not actually occupy all of me, but a limited part only.

I reported my progress to her the next day. She suggested: “Well, now you realize there’s a difference between who you are and who wants life to end, you can have a conversation with him!”

Flummoxed again, I asked what she meant.

“What if you could speak to the ‘you’ that wants out? What would you say?”

I reflected for a few moments. “I don’t know. I suppose I would seek to give him reassurance.”

“Okay“ she answered. “That’s more than reasonable! And what would he have to say in return?”

Thus began a conversation which developed over the next few days. The more it flourished, the more the physical pain that I once deemed unbearable transformed into something different. I even learned to make short excursions into complete acceptance, surrendering to its threat, and discovered something quite the opposite that lived inside it. As much as I could surrender, the pain would reveal something quite blissful, transcendent of pain. The strength of the sensation remained the same but it had shifted into something pleasurable, almost orgasmic.

Since then my inner conversation has deepened and evolved. Many more messages that were once hidden in the pain have since been revealed, and with each revelation the discomfort has diminished. That pain carried information, and it wasn’t until I embraced it that I understood its language.

That inquiry was the turnaround point for me, and having lived with it now for many years, having felt into all its hidden nuance, I was able to ask it of that young man that breathed with me that morning, knowing that the question was an important one, and that the exploration it invited was true.

So whatever your pain is, be it physical, psychic or spiritual, if it was carrying a message for you, what might it be?