Wednesday, November 20, 2013


I have had a lifelong aversion to needles.

I can't stand the sight of them, let alone the felt-experience. A doctor friend tells me that it is totally psychological. I beg to differ. I am indeed aware of the scary stories my mind tells about these instruments of terror, but it is my body that feels the effects of metal meeting nerve. I shudder once again even as I type those words.

Did I mention I have had a lifelong aversion to needles?

They say that if you want to transform a fear you must face it head on. If you want to get beyond your fear of flying you must take a ride within a plane, a hot air balloon, a parasail. If you want to want to go beyond your fear of heights you must rise above that fear into a high and lofty place. Fear of public speaking? Join Toastmasters. Fear of dating? Meet up with a meet up group. You get the idea.

And so 2013 has been my year of facing my fear of needles. Beginning in January of this year I have had more encounters with needles than I ever thought was possible.

It all began when I decided to re-enroll in health coverage. Part of the stipulation for my policy was that I go to see an appointed primary care physician and have a physical exam. Driving to the office I had a serious yet caring talk with myself regarding the inevitable date with a needle that I knew was about to occur. Forms, personal histories, interactional niceties, stethoscopes, and the blood pressure cuff passed and the moment finally came when the nurse sweetly asked me to roll up my sleeve. I heard my self respond in a voice several decibels higher than is my norm;” please don’t let me see the...”

And then she said it. “A little pinch.”

I guess I thought at the time that the words were somehow unique to her. “A little pinch.” First off, it wasn’t true. It was most definitely not a little pinch. It was a fairly good size bite and informing me that was going to be little was not in the least bit helpful. I struggled to remember the identity beneath the personality. And I sat with the barely concealed desire to return the favor.

And so it began. I have heard the words “a little pinch” countless times in the past calendar year. I could count on one hand the times it was an accurate descriptive. From phlebotomy to intravenous to aspirations the little pinch has never lost its impact to make me wince and tighten. And yet my relationship to the wince and to the tightening has been transformed dramatically.

Life is full of little pinches. That is just the way it is. It is our relationship to those pinches that make all the difference in our internal atmosphere. It is never helpful to pretend that there are not things that invoke fear within us. Fear is a part of the human experience and, contrary to what we so often hear, fear is not an enemy. If there has been one over-riding lesson from this year filled with nurses, needles and little pinches it is to relax open with those fears and embrace what instinctually triggers resistance. The life long aversion to needles has not gone away. Facing the fear over and over again has not resulted in a lack of fear. What I have learned this year, more intimately than ever, is to be friendly with the fear, the aversion, and the pain. Now when I hear the words “a little pinch” I bring presence to the part of me that resists needles and physical pain. I allow the contraction to occur, even as I invite a feeling and relaxation and openness to embrace the contraction. I watch the mind story about needle aversion without trying to layer over it with a better story of how I do not fear needles. That would only be a lie. I do fear needles, and I can relax open with that fear. It softens the entire experience, and leaves me feeling more expanded and peaceful as a result.

And so while needles are still far from being my friends, they have taught me a most friendly message. When I face the little pinches of life, as I do each and every day, I begin by consciously taking a breath. I acknowledge the pinch, and the fear that may be triggered. I allow fully for the entire experience of my experience, and I invite a full bodied sense of relaxed openness. I compassion the pinch, the seeming trigger, and I celebrate the ability to choose openness in my circumstances. And I recognize that without the fear and aversion I would not have learned this lesson.

So maybe needles are my friends after all.