Asatru, Heathen, Heathentry, Uncategorized

Living with pain: Lessons of the Tree Hanger

I live with chronic pain, and some days are better than others, but the key word here is live.  I don’t let pain keep me from work, from doing my duty to wife or children, or from doing such activities as bring me pleasure, like getting out and enjoying the physical comforts of my community celebrating together.


Right now I can barely breathe, an old wound, the kind you get when you get your ass handed to you by a black bear strong enough to toss three hundred pounds of me like an empty beer can, has my left chest and abdomen on fire.  Whenever the scar tissues inside get aggravated this happens.  The bastard damned near killed me, but I got up again, and he didn’t, so I have nothing to bitch about.  This is what victory feels like, so the Victory Father expects me to savour his gift, and I do.


Before the incident with the bear I picked up a chronic and degenerative spinal issue that will leave me with pain and spasm for the rest of my life.  The drugs that I was given are not ones that I can afford to be on, as they made me a danger to be around.  So, no drugs for me, I needed a better way, and I was given one.


Most of us who wore some form of green, be it CADPAT, MARPAT, or Multicam learn the way of the berserk, to use pain as fuel for power.  This is an awesome tool to drive your body beyond its limits, and explains why veteran soldiers and atheletes who get up in the morning like 80 year old men can out march, out work, and out fight the young and hale soldiers under them.  It only works when you are pushing, and really is not a constructive model to use at home.


There is another way, a really counter intuitive way.  I did not figure this out, and I did not seek out instruction to learn this, for honestly, no one was teaching it.  At the worst time in my life I chose to take the pain and lack of sleep and make use of it through and ordeal.

Ordeals are stupid.  Seeking to do an ordeal is really stupid.  Sometimes you are already dealing with all the negatives anyway, sometimes you have already paid the cost, it is only for you to take up these tools that have been thrust upon you and weild them in your own defense.  I know there are people that talk about what you can do with ordeals, well balance the cost of the damned things to body, mind and spirit and what you are basically proposing sounds a lot like “shove a football (fully inflated, none of this Tom Brady half inflated crap) up your vagina to understand the miracle of childbirth!”

Woman holding football


If that sounds really stupid, then that is exactly how I feel about putting yourself through an Ordeal, rather than accepting your wyrd and turning to the gods and ancestors for assistance when you are undergoing a period of life changing trial (ie, you are already given the ordeal, now you are simply asking for instruction).  If you find yourself with something the size of a league official football on the wrong side of your vagina, then childbirth, even if it is an ordeal, really represents the best of the available options.  When you ought to be doing an ordeal, that is the sort of choices you are looking at, if stupid and horrific is the commonality of your choices, but one represents a better option for going forward, that would be the path of the ordeal, that is what it was left for.


I am an active person, my nature and my training have always been to act.  Even as soldier and hunter, waiting and watching is not passive, it is immersive, extending yourself and stilling yourself to a state of utter awareness leaving you at rest in such a way as to be able to be able to act instantly, not so much at rest as poised to complete a pending action.  Of course, none of these tools or techniques will help at all, and most will get in the way.

The reality of the lesson of the Tree Hanger is one that I was not prepared for until I had exhausted all other options, all strength, had all pride and will stripped away until I was ready to accept whatever instruction was offered, reguardless of how it meshed with what I knew.




When you speak of submission and pain, people frequently make the sort of mistakes that mistake BDSM for spirititual practice, you could not go farther wrong if you tried deliberately to.  That is aversion to pain, submission to the person hurting you.  That is kink not cope.  Now don’t get me wrong, if you get your rocks off on BDSM, have fun doing it, and you will also learn lovely ways to make use of pain, but like the path of the berserk, it will not help you when you have no strength left, for lust like rage is active, not passive, and fails with your own limits.


Submission to pain is the lesson of the Tree Hanger.

My ordeal experience was messed up, the way such things generally seem in the lore, and I’m not sure where the symbolism was drawn from, was it external and that explains why it is similar to the lore, was it internal, and because I had read the lore that is where the images were pulled from?  Don’t know, don’t care.  Really more of a pragmatist myself.  I could care less where the torque wrench was invented, I just want one that works.  I got one that works, and this is how you use it.


The meditation to implement this is unpleasant, but hey, if you are already deep enough in pain to be needing it, unpleasant is not a problem.  If the meditation I am about to describe is too unpleasant for you, then you are really not in that much pain, so suck it up J


I prefer to imagine myself sitting, if you can’t physically sit, the mental image still works, but closing your eyes becomes more important so that physical reality does not conflict with the mental imagry at the beginning..


For me pain is a dark red, not the bright red spray of fresh blood, but the dark red filth of old clot.  Imagine yourself sitting at the base of the tree, your back to it.  Imagine your pain rising up out of the ground, and lapping at your body.  Breathe deep, and relax.  Pain is rising, pain is filling your body.  Flowing from your legs and back, a building tide of it, and your body is recoiling striving to react.  You breathe in the fear, the aversion to pain, and you let it go.  The pain fills your belly, and the sickness of it fills you, the horror and shame of weakness fills you.  Breathe in all of this, and expel it.  The pain rises slowly within and without you, lapping at your chest, filling your lungs as you drown in it.  Your survival instincts now seek to take you over, fight or flight rises, but you are on the tree now, not a part from it.  This is the choice; to hang from the tree, or to run from it.


At this point you take the mental action, the spiritual act of choice.  At this point you sacrifice yourself to yourself.  The tree is the tool, the tree is not the object nor the recipient of the sacrifice, you are.  The tree simply is, binding  the worlds within and without and making what is done here binding across all the worlds we touch; inner, outer, and beyond.  At the point where your sanity is clawing at your controls and demanding you act, take up the spear, for when you open your hand it will be given you, and drive it into the source of your pain, and pin yourself to the tree.

Odin speared to tree


This act, sacrificing yourself to yourself is the only active portion you can do, as you are literally actively choosing to be passive before your pain.  The pain will now rise and fill your mouth and nose, cover your eyes, and fill your ears.  You will be in  the silence and the dark filled with and consumed by your pain.  You do not offer your pain resistance, it is your pain, you claim it not only for yourself, but as yourself.  You submit to your pain let it fill you, and you dwell within the pain, allowing yourself to experience it fully and deeply.  Learn it.  Know it, let it know you.  Learn and accept it as you.


Breathe, pain flows in, pain flows out, pain flows through you like your blood, filling you, sustaining you.  Your body cries out against it, but you do not listen.  You hang upon the tree, you hang as sacrifice, yourself to yourself, and pain fills you by your act of will.  Breathe, pain flows in, pain flows out, pain flows through you, and you know it as your own, you own it, you know it as yourself.


Open your eyes now, feel the pain throughout your body, feel it and accept it.  Do not reach for adrenaline, do not reach for power to fight back the pain.  Let the pain fill you, submit to pain, as you submit to the cold of winter or heat of summer, letting your body accept and adapt to the new normal, and while the pain, like cold and heat, are not forgotten, they are background colours of what your senses perceive, and again the rest of the world comes into focus.


Submission to the pain, embrace of the pain, accepting that you as you are now and going forward includes the pain is the goal of the exercise.  Now the pain does not get in the way of noting pleasure, hunger, joy, want, sadness, anger.  You do not need to expend strength at all times to fight it, but rather you can relax into the pain when you do not need your strength and enjoy life, take respite, restore your strengthe and take pleasure, knowing that when the time comes to embrace your power and once again consume the pain via the active pathways we already know, you will have your full reserves to use for the  times we need to overcome our bodies limitations, and pay the price for power.

The people of the Mediterranean and Red Seas built rigid ships that resisted the sea, and they drowned when it turned against them.  The people of the North faced a great angry sea, a terrible power that could not be resisted, so they didn’t’ try.  The  klincker build ships of our ancestors accepted the terrible power of the sea with cheerful unconcern.  Their ships bent like a willow, great serpents that slithered through the sea, not brittle sticks that broke upon it.  They did not fight the sea, they danced with it.  From them we inherit the lesson not to spend our strength against the tides, but to learn to move with them.

Drakkar in Storm


When pain is a stream we stride through it, when pain is a river we build to channel it, when pain is the sea, we must learn to accept it, to learn its ways, to move with it, and to learn to ride its currents to take us where we need to go.

I like life, I like pleasure, and accomplishment, power, challenge, love, lust, the burn of alcohol, the savour of fine foods, the sight of beautiful women, and the company of good friends.  Pain is the cost of admission, so it behooves me to see that paying that price is both worth it in terms of what I receive in return, and in terms of the cost to my body and mind of that pain.

I am not going to tell you this takes away your pain, because it doesn’t.  I am going to tell you that I don’t bother taking pain medication at all, because what I have learned literally gives me more comfort and function than the finest narcotics junkies and physicians rhapsodize about.  Given the choice between what chemistry can do for me, or what the tools the gods and ancestors have given me can do instead, chemistry can go back to making mead where I have some use for it.



One thought on “Living with pain: Lessons of the Tree Hanger

  1. Michele White says:

    I am stunned! Who am I, to think that He would have given the tools of submission to only me…be that as it may, I was shocked to see that you had used this route and that He was with you. I also live with chronic pain and a host of demons that haunt me. I will not compare our paths – to do so would insult you and would denigrate my own experiences. There was a particular time that I was battling a tar pit of darkness that I feared would finally drown me…I called out to Allfather and soon after, during my weekly blot, I was given a vision wherein Odin sat with me on a worn wooden bench and placed a strong but ornate helm on my head. I could feel the smooth metal and see the artwork on’s design, I now know, was common during an age past. After he stared into my eyes with the deepest sadness I have ever seen…I asked Him where my Sword was (thinking he was preparing me to battle) and as the scene began to fade – I heard Him say that “Some battles are won by not fighting”… That night I relived the terror I had been avoiding. My husband held me as I sobbed and let the memories flow…That story is best left untold… But suffice it to say, My helm reminded me of who I am…who I was… and the strength that keeps me going every day. That demon is still with me, but manageable and weak. The experience taught me more and brought me more relief than any drug or therapy.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s