One of my favourite teachers once said, “pain is weakness leaving the body”. For a chronic pain sufferer this could feel like a kick in the guts, considering having chronic pain means you are experiencing pain constantly, so it might be difficult to swallow that you are just a big pile of weakness – unless you think of it in another way…
If pain is weakness leaving the body and we persistently try to change the pain into something else (pleasure) by taking pain killers then we are interrupting it’s journey through and ultimately out of the body. The same goes for our mind frame surrounding the pain; if we, for example, allow the talk in our minds to be always wishing for the pain to not be painful then we interrupt it’s journey out of the body.
Consider what the Bhagavad Gita says; yoga is the journey through the self, by the self, to the self, as it gives some insight into how we might be able to approach chronic pain. Obviously chronic pain suffers have generally tried everything to rid themselves of the pain, because, well it is painful! I would hazard a guess however that anybody who are still experiencing chronic pain, probably have not taken the giant leap of faith into mindful meditation, at least not whole heartedly. In no way is this a criticism (I seem to type these words regularly, however because of the way we have been programmed, often any observation can be seen as a personal attack) but a simple observation taken from personal experience and comparison. As a chronic pain sufferer myself, I understand the trauma that accompanies the pain itself, and subsequent mental health issues.
We are taught by modern medicine that allopathy is the most effective way of treating illness, however I have experienced something to the contrary when it comes to chronic pain (amongst other things). We need to start viewing our pain in a different way. We need to give our pain a chance to do what it is there to do and worth with it to find a solution. How many of you, with chronic pain, who are reading this want to kick me in the head right now? I know, I probably sound like a jerk, because our ego doesn’t like having to detach from the identities we have built up over our lives and our pain is part of that identity. Therefore, the less power we give to our ego the more likely we will succeed at learning to live with chronic pain. So for those of you that are not particularly keen on hallucinogenics, I have found mindful meditation to be effective. In one of my other blog posts I go talk about the process I used to make this discovery and although I definitely haven’t been the perfect poster child for the practice, I can never unlearn what I learned that day.
The process is painful because we are dealing with pain and it is a process because it isn’t going to cure you immediately. The real here issue is, in fact, the impurities of the mind; “but wait, the pain is real!”, I hear you muttering through your teeth at me, and I know it is but that doesn’t mean that we can’t try to approach it via the mind. Our big old human brains are capable of much more than we give them credit for and this is the perfect situation to start exploring what your grey matter can do to help you.
Here is an example of the process of seated mindful meditation:
Sit as comfortably as you can (but don’t become so attached to this comfort), keeping your spine straight. If you need a wall or chair with a back for support that is perfectly fine. It is best to sit rather than recline because the mind will try to fall asleep as a way out of this drill, but we don’t want to fall asleep.
Now, take a few deep breaths through the nostrils and allow that breath to go directly into the lower abdomen, feel it expand. Exhale fully also. Now start to pay attention to your ability to focus on your breath. Most likely there are many thoughts buzzing around your head, which is fine, just observe this. In fact, the whole exercise is simply making observations. Continue to observe your breath entering and leaving the body, and also just observing the thoughts. When you notice that your mind is becoming involved with those thoughts, gently but firmly ask your focus to return to your breath. Continue this, no matter how many times your mind wanders from the task at hand.
Try this, without moving the body (not even to scratch an itch) for five minutes. Increase the time by a minute each tume you sit until you may eventually reach a whole hour! It will enevitably hurt, possibly a lot but you have the power to control your reactions and in doing so rewire your own brain. By resisting the urge to move, you are asking your brain to develop new pathways, which will help you become more resilient and able to cope with more discomfort.
As I saw in the BBC program, The Doctor Who Gave Up On Drugs, certain physical activities are immeasureably helpful. Martial arts, yoga, qi gong, functional movement sessions, are all fantastic options. Connecting mindfulness and movement is a powerful tool in helping to relieve pain – even if doctors have given up on you!
You are powerful, strong and worthy.
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