It feels like 100 knives stabbing me in the stomach.
Over and over.
Hour after hour.
I call it “The Stomach Pain of Death” (and I HATE it). In case you’re wondering, in the past I typically crawled up on the couch or bed and just wished it would end. Sometimes I would cry.
Yes, I’ve even thought death might be better at times.
Sound dramatic? Well, I don’t wish this upon anyone, but if you’ve experienced it you understand.
I remember experiencing it as a kid. And then over and over throughout my adult life. It started getting really bad in 2009, and it was one of the biggest motivators for me to change my health.
But last week I had to sit in a room with over 70 people and not move… while I got stabbed for hours.
It was a new level of hell.
Why didn’t I curl up and cry, take pills, drink alcohol or seek some other distraction to run from the pain?
Because I was on Day 6 of a 10-day Vipassana meditation retreat.
And I was committed to completing it. That meant not getting kicked out, which also meant following the rules: no talking, no writing, eat what they serve you, do what they tell you and when they say to.
And on this afternoon I had to sit for just over an hour, completely still and silent.
I had to feel it all.
It was one of the most painful experiences I’ve ever gone through.
But it changed my life.
It Was Supposed to Be Different… I’m Healthy
I can do anything.
That’s just a small fraction of what’s typically floating through my head during a day. And these thoughts make me miserable.
“What do you mean Steve?”
I mean it turns out those thoughts set up expectations about how life is going to occur. And when it doesn’t it causes massive suffering.
That afternoon, the gift I got – stabbing pain into my gut 1,000 times – was this truth:
My health is always changing.
And if I expect my body and brain to perform 100% each day, I’m going to continue to live in misery.
Food Affects Me
“Well, duh!” you might be thinking. I’ve spent a significant portion of my life trying to build a bulletproof body. Regaining my health was great… but I’ve always wanted more.
I wanted to see if I could be like those people who “80-20” it or eat full vegetarian and still perform.
“Why,” you ask? Well, I’ve wanted to be antifragile. I wanted to know that I could throw almost anything at my body and it could handle it.
Basically, I’ve been trying to be different than I am.
And each day that I choose this… I spend in misery.
The 10 day retreat forced me to eat extremely high carbohydrate, some processed gluten-free foods, and I was without a doubt exposed to gluten.
I ate nearly nothing in my regular diet…
And my body hated it.
My Health is Always Changing
I’ve said for years now that every bite of food is either adding to health or subtracting from it.
But now I understand that truth at a deeper level.
After the food, the lack of sleep and exercise, my health was suffering. My skin broke out, I lost a bunch of weight, got constipated, and of course had gas all day every day.
The last day, I had a complete blowout in the bathroom and thought I might actually pass out. It was intense!
Yet through all the pain… I’m grateful for it all. It really drove home the message: my health is and always will be changing.
If I get attached to it; if I expect it to be a certain way, no doubt I’m going to have a letdown and start suffering. I’ve been living like this for over 5 years.
And I’d like to stop.
Relaxing Into Health (By Stopping)
I know a few things…
I’m not going to let go of my attachment and expectations just because of one retreat. What I am going to do, though, is continue working at it.
I also know that I’m not going to stop valuing great health.
So what to make of this seemingly paradoxical issue?
The way I’m looking at it is very simple.
There is night and there is day.
There is a spring, summer, fall, and winter.
In other words, everything is always changing. If I were to latch on to summer and complain and wish it back as fall comes into my life, I’d be making myself miserable for months at a time.
If I get sick – if I get “The Stomach Pain of Death” – you won’t see me running around screaming about how grateful I am, but going forward you will see me take it with a new level of grace.
And while something like that might normally leave me in a funk for a week, I’m going to shoot for a day.
As you can see, all of this doesn’t mean I won’t be eating my custom diet, doing testing, taking supplements, exercising and sleeping. Yes, I will continue working towards more resilient levels of health.
And on the days when it’s not there, rather than spending it frustrated and annoyed I think I’m going to just try living and smiling more.
I’ve never been so aware of how much expectations and attachments to things that change create pain in my life. The best part is I’m also empowered by the fact that I have the choice to stop it.
Are there any attachments or expectations that you’d like to stop? I’d love to hear in the comments.
P.S. – If you’re wondering… at the end of the 10 days I drove straight to the supermarket and bought a pound of the best meat I could find (it was sliced organic turkey breast), a coffee and a journal. It was the best pound of meat and coffee ever! And I had no digestion issues at all 😉