We live between the act of awakening and the act of surrender.  Each morning we awaken to the light and the invitation to a new day in the world of time; each night we surrender to the dark to be taken to play in the world do of dreams where time is no more.

John O’Donohue, Beauty

There is a rhythm to living.  Living is a conversational rhythm that occurs between people, between thoughts in our heads, between ever-shifting identities, between feelings and values, between distinct perspectives.  The conversation bridges worlds that are otherwise separate.

There is also a rhythm to healing.  To heal from any injury, we must feel that rhythm.  We must become in tune with our bodies.  The rhythm for healing most physical injuries is a 3-step process; connect-act-rest.  In this 3-step process, the first two steps are forward, while the third step is backward.  This 2-steps-forward, 1-step-back process is critical.

This Article Contains:

Healing Step 1: Connect to Heal
Healing Step 2: Act
Seven principles of healing action
Healing Step 3: Rest
How do we rest a difficult relationship – 5 tips for resting together!
How to keep the rhythm going

Step 1: Connect to Heal

In step 1, connect, we decide that we are going to take action to heal.  This may seem simple, but it is the most important step and often the one most overlooked.  We decide here that healing is our own responsibility, not someone else’s.  It is ok to use tools, like braces and wheelchairs, to help us with healing.  We seek out help from others who act as consultants, coaches and cheerleaders.  But we take care not to become dependent upon these tools or the people who help us.  When we rely upon people too much, they can start to ‘used’, which is a sign of co-dependency.  In the connect step, we allocate space, time, and energy towards healing.  The biggest mistake people make here is not setting aside enough space, time and energy.  People expect to cheat their way to getting better, and they are often surprised when it doesn’t work.

Step 2: Act

In step 2, act, we take specific action towards healing.  Usually this involves expending effort.  For most physical injuries, this means exercise.  If you don’t know exactly what types of exercise to do, then work with a professional.   For mental health issues, this involves confronting our issues head-on through mental processing.  Mental processing can take many forms: journaling, counseling, talking to friends / family, engaging in artistic endeavors, mindfulness recordings and self-guided meditation.  For relationship issues, this involves working directly with the person to tackle the issue at-hand.

People make the common mistake that healing happens naturally without effort, when in fact healing is always hard work.

The ocean surface is incessantly restless with every conceivable crest and blister of water.  Yet the ocean maintains poise.  However and wherever it throws itself, it never falls outside of itself. It can spread and scatter every which way, yet it is always held within the shelter of the one rhythm.

John O’Donohue, Beauty

Seven principles of healing action include:

  • We do the work!  At this stage, we are the person doing the majority of the work.  For physical injuries, this means actively working to make one’s body stronger.  Seeing a chiropractor or having a joint injection do not qualify here.
  • Get uncomfortable!  Growth does not happen without discomfort.  Discomfort occurs when we push the limits of old boundaries.  Here we may push ourselves to run faster or lift more weight.  We may take on new exercises or learn new skills.
  • Break out of old habits.  By doing the same things we have always done, we can expect to get the same results.  Try something new.
  • Don’t be afraid of failure.  In fact, we should expect failure.  Failure is part of the growth process.  In step 3, rest, we will learn how to take stock of what worked and what didn’t.  Here in step 2, we’re expected to jump full-bore into something that may not work.
  • Avoid causing pain.  While discomfort is expected and necessary for growth, pain is the sign that we are worsening an injury.  We must listen to our bodies to discover the fine line between discomfort and pain.  We can ride the edge but must take care not to cross.  For physical injuries, pain is a sign of tissue trauma.  We can work a torn muscle to the point where discomfort becomes pain, then we must back off or else risk making things worse.  For emotional rifts, we can explore thorny issues but must take care not to cause worsening emotional trauma.  Here we must learn to listen to ourselves and others to find the invisible line between discomfort and pain.  Once we feel that twinge of pain, we must redirect the activity away.
  • Active listening is a key skill involved.  When we are healing from physical or mental injuries, we are listening to our bodies to discover where the boundaries are, how far they can stretch, and how much rest they need.
  • The boundary between pain and discomfort changes over time.  As an injury heals, this boundary should expand.  For instance, as a muscle gets stronger, it should be able to do more prior to experiencing pain.  The same goes for emotional trauma.  As a person heals, it becomes easier to discuss thorny issues.

Healing Step 3: Rest

In step 3, rest, we actively engage in resting our system.  This is the one-step-back.  For physical injuries, this involves actively resting our injured body.  Active resting isn’t just sitting around.  Here we are still actively doing something.  We are icing our joints, stretching, rolling out our muscles, taking in proper nutrition and electrolytes to promote healing, etc.  Here is where we can allow others to take a major supportive role: chiropractor, massage therapist, acupuncture.

For mental health issues, we are giving parts of our brain a rest while still working other parts of our brain, our body, and spirit.  For instance, exercise and yoga are great ways to keep our bodies in shape.  To exercise those other parts of our brain, we may conduct artistic endeavors, read a book, or engage in other intellectual pursuits that are not related to the mental health issue.  Here we must be sure not to allow our mental health issue to encroach upon activity and thus force ourselves to rest.  We also take steps to ensure proper sleep.

Here are some general principles of active rest:

  • Rest is not sitting around.
  • Rest is not watching TV, surfing social media, or playing on electronics.
  • Rest is often uncomfortable as we continue to stretch or work sore muscles.
  • We can allow others to help with certain aspects of rest (chiropractor, massage therapist, acupuncture, etc.), but we do not rely on these people to do all the work for us at this stage.
  • It’s best to engage in a comprehensive plan for resting that involves the whole body: mind, body, and spirit.
  • Reflect upon what worked and what didn’t in the act stage.

How do we rest a difficult relationship?

People may wonder how to rest during a relationship struggle.  When going through couples therapy, for instance, the therapy occurs during the act stage.  This is where couples practice better communication and work through difficult issues.  Couples may also conduct specific exercises designed to work through these issues.  Between sessions, couples need to rest.

There are two types of rest: resting together and resting apart.  Both are critical for stressed couples.

Resting together involves doing fun activities together that help to build an emotional connection.  These are leisurely activities that help build appreciation of one another.  Here we are putting aside all the difficult issues, the stressors, the communication struggles, past betrayals, etc.  A couple could look back to the fun activities that brought them together in the first place.  This typically means going on dates.  A couple needs to make time and space for these activities.   The goal here is having fun together doing something that you both enjoy.  This step is so critical because without it, what’s the point of the relationship?

Five tips for resting together:

  1. Avoid watching romance movies that can cause one person to feel hurt or quickly spiral into a fight: “Why don’t you ever do the kind things that I saw that guy do?”
  2. Avoid one-sided activities that will cause one person to feel used.  For instance, don’t offer to massage your partner’s feet if you really don’t want to.
  3. Physical intimacy and sex are critical elements for most couples, but this needs to be carefully approached if this was part of the problem.  If that’s the case, delay attempting these activities until you both are ready.  Find new ways of sharing intimacy that are unrelated to past hurts.  Be curious!  Set appropriate boundaries ahead of time so that you don’t inadvertently slide back down into a thorny issue.
  4. Emotional intimacy is also critical.  Now is the time to explore deeper feelings and beliefs.  Partners need to be explorers.  They need to be genuinely curious about one another.  Again, like physical intimacy, couples need to avoid sliding into discussions related to their thorny issues.  Set appropriate boundaries to prevent that from happening at the wrong time.  If you feel yourselves sliding towards a difficult issue, say something like, “I don’t feel comfortable talking about that right now.  Can we table that issue until tomorrow and instead go back to discussing…”
  5. Good quality listening can be helpful for establishing appropriate boundaries around what your partner thinks would be fun vs what they see as another chore.

Resting apart involves doing activities that help to strengthen other aspects of our identity.  We can do things that build our self-esteem, such as learn new hobbies.  We can also engage with other people in our life: family, friends, coworkers.  We work actively to strengthen those bonds.  We make ourselves into a stronger, more whole person.

Keeping the rhythm

Healing a complex injury involves going through these three steps over and over again.  Knowing which step you are on is helpful.  Knowing which step you may be neglecting is also important.  Don’t be afraid to try something new and fail.  Don’t be afraid every time you take a step back.  Keep in mind the image of a dance: two-steps-forward, one-step-back.  Try not to get angry when your toes get stepped on.  Remember that is part of the process.  Also remember, every dance can be hard work to learn at first, but it is supposed to also be fun.

Be flexible.  Healing a complex injury rarely occurs according to a predetermined schedule.  Before going back to step one, be sure to reflect on what worked and what didn’t.  Also ask yourself, what haven’t we tried yet?

As we repeat the cycle, we create a rhythm.  Over time we collect feedback on our performance.  Which of our connections are getting stronger?  Which are getting weaker?  Are we healing?  Are the boundaries stretching.  Have they stretched too far?  Do we feel listened to?  Have our partners demonstrated signs—changes in behavior—that show that they also feel listened to?

Next: Feelings have purpose