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The Spiritual Significance of Pain

Everything on the physical plane is a manifestation of something on the metaphysical plane. The Western approach to pain is pretty much limited to drugs and surgery. Treatment consists of numbing or diverting pain receptors in the body or cutting off the offending organ. While this approach does have its place in acute situations, it is at best a temporary and often harmful way to approach pain or other disharmonies we feel in our bodies. Most often, western medicine has little to offer most of us and incredibly makes us wait until our symptoms become unbearably acute before it can even acknowledge a disharmony.


The ancient Taoists theorized that good and bad, right and wrong, yin and yang, were just different points of view that we all adopt at one time or another. Because the earth plane is dualistic in nature, we all view at one time or another from both the Yin and the Yang ends of the telescope. There does not seem to be a point in judging one good and one bad or judging one good and one evil. These just are the symptoms of being human.


Wholistic Healing of the individual occurs at different energetic levels. These are the physical, emotional, mental and spiritual levels. For those on the path, there are a great many more levels and sublevels identified in various cultural, religious and philosophical traditions. But for our purposes we can look at the individual in these 7 broad realms to at least begin the process of healing: head, back, legs, throat, solar plexus, stomach and chest/breasts.



1. Headaches

Pain always indicates a separation of some sort from something. Usually, we say separation from what is the Truth. The greater the pain, the more important that something is. Depending on which part of the head is afflicted the meaning changes. Louise Hay suggests that Headaches indicate invalidating the Self out of Fear. In Chinese Medicine there are several different kinds of headaches according to the quality of the pain and the location on the head.


2. Vertex

The top of the head is associated with our connection to the Universe or God. Pain here is associated with separation from that higher power. It is also associated with the Kidneys and the emotion is Fear. Both the Gallbladder and Urinary Bladder channels traverse the top of the head. The Gallbladder is associated with courage, and the Urinary Bladder through its associate with the kidneys is associated with Fear. There could be something you are dealing with at that moment in time that could be instigating your fears in how to handle a certain person or thing.


3. Forehead

The forehead is associated with the 3rd eye, both in the Chakra Theory and the traditional Chinese medical theory. The 3rd eye is associated with introspection and illumination of your own Inner Being. Pain here is associated with separation from your own Inner Being. Contemplate on what you are being called upon to doing and focus on bringing your connection back to your Self.


4. Temporal

The sides of the head are associated with courage, especially courage to face your world. migraine headaches, usually located in the front quadrants, right or left, indicate a separation from your world. The involvement of the eyes in migraines indicates not only an unwillingness to look without but to look within. Most migraine sufferers report, not only severe pain behind the eye but also acute sensitivity to light. Lack of Joy (with one’s self) is strongly indicated by pain in this area.


5. Occipital

The back of the head represents your past. Some say also this is an area of spirituality. Pain here represents something in your past that is not complete and remains unforgiven. The back of the head is thought to be the seat of spiritual experiences. The only way to see them is through inner sight. Pain in the back of the head represents an unwillingness to look deep within for the source of light and truth.



1. Spine

The Spine represents the support you think you have in life and your alignment with those supportive forces. Curved spine, or scoliosis represents a misalignment with life. Spasms represent an unwillingness to accept the support that is there.


2. Shoulders

Shoulders represent burdens and responsibilities. Frozen shoulder for example represents a complete unwillingness to shoulder your responsibilities in life, especially your own Life. Pain and dysfunction to varying degrees represent varying degrees of unwillingness to be responsible. Moving forward in life sometimes requires that you ‘put your shoulder to the wheel,’ to overcome inertia.


3. The back

The back represents that which is behind you. Very often we do not see clearly that which is behind us. Our back problems generally represent the conflict between the urge to move forward and the inertia of an unforgiven past that holds us back. This tension very often separates us from both and pain is the result.


4. Mid back

The mid-back is the link between the shoulder and the lower back. It can be a weak link. As we firm up our shoulders and become willing to take on the responsibilities of life, and we have gathered around us the financial and emotional support we need (lower back), something sneaks up and stabs us in the back. This is a blind spot. Not only can we not see it, but is very difficult to reach. The weak link crumbles. It is the saboteur or seducer that takes us off our path. Blockages here affect the entire body and can stop you dead in your tracks. The spleen represents worry or overthinking and the liver represents anger or base emotions. Both of these can sabotage even the best-laid plans, therefore, always listen to what your body is saying to you before you react to others.


5. Lower Back

The Lower Back represents support: financial support, emotional support of family and friends, and support of God or the Universe. The Kidneys are located in this area and Kidney dysfunction results in fear/fright/phobias. A sore lower back may indicate that we have taken on more than we think we can handle. This is a dysfunction, only if it is not the truth. If we have indeed taken on too much, that would be indicated by a physical trauma to the back and all we need to do is lighten the load. Chronic low backache, though, not associated with any trauma is the one with the metaphysical application, and the one related to kidney depletion. Low back pain is often diminished by strengthening the kidneys. In short, low back pain generally refers to a lack of trust in the Universe to protect, support, and receive financial abundance.


6. Coccyx

The Coccyx/Sacrum is the seat of Self-pity. There is a fear of asking for help. One would rather sit and feel sorry for one’s self than get of one’s behind and do something about it. To rid yourself of this pain, ask for help and allow your vulnerability to show, even if you have to let all your guard down.



1. Hips

Hips represent decisions in Life, especially decisions about moving forward. Pain in the hips is a sign of being ‘stuck,’ unable to make a decision, or see clearly what is needed to be done next. The process of walking requires that we first thrust the hip forward and the leg follows. This is actually, an act of faith on our part, since we are quite literally initiating a fall to the ground and trusting that our legs will save us. Hips also represent the idea that the next step in your life is important. Pain or discomfort advises you to slow down or stop, look around, buy a map, or ask someone for directions.


2. Upper Thighs

Thighs are the link between the hips and decisions, and the knees and pride. Very often, when we have made a decision and take the next step, pride gets in the way. “What if I look stupid? What if it’s not right? What if it doesn’t work out?” Our knees lock up or turn to jelly, and we are prevented from moving forward. The pain that begins in the hips and shoots down the thigh (Sciatic Nerve), is the separation from our desire and decision to move forward and our fear of falling flat on our faces – this could stem from childhood traumas or humiliation that has left a lasting impression on our psyche. It is time to relook the issues therein to avoid having these problems in the future.


3. Knees

Knees represent pride. In spiritual practice, it is suggested that one must go down before one can rise up. Pride or ego keeps us from surrendering to the will of God or the Universe. In practice, every time we move forward in life or approach change, we approach the unknown. We may feel vulnerable or unsure. We may stand still, stiff-kneed resisting the winds of change. It is interesting to note that stiff, sore knees are a symptom of kidney deficiency, whose emotion is fear. Rather than admitting to our fears, we resist it until it overwhelms us. While knees represent pride, and it is said that ‘Pride goes before the fall,’ knees can also represent humility which is the wisdom to be yielding in the face of change. Briefly, knee problems may be said to indicate being stuck in the ego, too proud to bend, and can bring about a great deal of pain in the journey of our lives.


4. Shins

Although the shins are mostly bone, the hardest substance in the body, the shins are actually quite sensitive and brittle. A slight whack on the shins is not only painful, but it also weakens the entire body and stops it cold. When we have organized ourselves to move forward, to take the next step towards the goal we have set, and are in the process of taking it, something comes along and sends you tumbling. It is something we trip over because we don’t see it, even though it is right there in front of us. In ancient times the shin pads that warriors wore were called greaves. Very often what trips us up is something, the loss of which we haven’t properly grieved. Moving forward always means something gets left behind. Moving forward is often marked by a jumble of emotional responses which need to be sorted out, especially if we are resisting it, as pain in the shins, indicates that you are resisting change.


5. Ankles

Ankles represent flexibility, mobility, and direction which are important as one navigates the twists and turns of life. Stiff, painful ankles mean that change is difficult for you. Maybe you are one who digs in your heels and resists moving forward. The more life forces change upon you, the deeper you dig in. A broken ankle is a good sign to develop some flexibility in your life.


6. Feet

Our feet represent our connection with Mother Earth. Sore, swollen, numb or painful feet represent the state of our relation with our Mother. Mother Earth, and our base energies. While it is the legs that carry us forward into life, it is the feet that actually make contact with the ground and can stop any advance, or at least make it difficult. In modern society with its asphalt, concrete, and high rises, we lose touch with the Earth and its energies. This may be reflected in our relationship with the one who gave birth to us. Separation can cause real pain.



The Throat represents our will and our ability to communicate, both with others and with ourselves. Sore throats, lumps in the throat, tumours all represent difficulties in saying what we want to say. Lumps, both physical tumours and those that are non-manifest are our willful attempts to block free expression of emotion and of our identity. The Throat is another one of those weak links that can seduce or sabotage you from your path. The throat is the channel between the head and the heart. In Chinese Medicine, it is said the heart houses the mind, especially in its connection with the emotion of joy and the expression of love for ourselves and for others. Where these come from is all the things you have not said over the years that get stuck in the throat, needing to get out, and out they come, one way or the other. All emotions are designed to be expressed, even the ones we judge to be negative and especially the ones we judge to be positive. Problems indicate an inability to speak up for one’s self, swallowed anger, stifled creativity, and refusal to change. Thyroid problems indicate difficulty in analyzing, digesting, and assimilating the communication between the head and the heart.



The chest area represents the Feminine principal of nurturing and nourishing the connection with the ‘breath of life,’ as it flows through the lungs. In men, pain or discomfort, not associated with any organ or vessel represents a disconnection from the feminine principal. Breast envy may exist in men; the desire to connect with the feminine side, the same way male member envy is said to exist in women; the desire to connect with the masculine side. In Chinese Medicine, the front is considered Yin. The chest is the confluence of the three most important kinds of Qi, that nourishes the body. Breast problems represents a denial of the Mother/feminine principal to nourish the self and to nourish others while cysts, lumps, etc. represents over mothering.



Is said to be the seat of the ego and individuation. Some call this the Negative ego. In general, this area represents the conflicts in your life. Pain or discomfort in the diaphragm area represents unresolved conflicts.



The stomach represents digestion, not only of food and physical nutrients, but of new ideas, new ways of doing things, and accepting change of any kind. The stomach is nothing more than a big flexible bag of muscle whose job is to ripen and rot whatever is put into it. That is, its job is to break down what is put into it into a form that the body can deal with. Metaphysically, when we come upon a new idea or a new way of doing things, the process includes that we must swallow the idea, either whole or in handy bite-sized morsels, break it down into a form we can handle, and finally absorb that which we need to nourish ourselves. In the same way, that bad diet poisons the body, toxic ideas, suppressed emotions, and resistance to change can have a poisoning effect. In traditional Chinese Medicine, long-standing emotional disharmony is seen as a primary cause of disease. Strengthening the Spleen/Stomach which between them are responsible for transforming food and water into Qi, and transporting it throughout the body, is seen as a key strategy to deal with almost any disease. Metaphysically we need to nourish ourselves every day, just as we need to eat nourishing foods. Just as the physical body needs nourishment to grow and carry on its day-to-day activities, so do the emotional, mental, and spiritual bodies. Metaphysically, ‘wellness,’ is not accomplished by a change in diet alone, it includes the need to contemplate on the task in hand wholesomely and then, acting upon it.


Meditation and sound healing therapies have been known to heal much of the deep-seated fears or anger and frustrations that are deeply entrenched in our DNA. Practise your meditation every day with deep breathing techniques and gift yourself the permission to live life on your terms.


I wish you great health!




*Photography by Sydney Sims.


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