Making Friend with Pain
Pay attention to pain
Most people notice pain once it begins, the body’s wake-up call to pay attention to itself and re-activate the body sense. Hopefully it is not too late to use relatively simple self-awareness remedies like adjusting posture, standing up and stretching from time to time, going to the gym to cleanse the body of toxins, getting a massage, or meditating to clear the mind of compelling thoughts.
If you continue to ignore the pain, however, you may develop tissue damage like tendonitis, or loss of cartilage, or bone compression in the vertebra, or a pinched nerve. Your body was under stress the whole time and you did not become aware of that until it had progressed into the stage of depleting your body’s resources to cope with it: literally destroying cells that maintain your ability to function.
Paradoxically, even though pain is meant to be a wake-up call, it is often treated like an unwelcome guest. All we want to do is get away from it or to have that guest leave as soon as possible. It may not seem like it at the time, but pain exists in our bodies as a way of getting our attention back to ourselves. Pain is one of the pathways that our body sense uses to spontaneously and automatically remind us to notice a physical or emotional threat we may have been avoiding.
This leads to a paradox. The only way out of the suffering is to jump back into it. The only way to ease the pain and at the same time to heal the body is to attend to and feel the pain in embodied self-awareness. Analgesics and opiates, alcohol and psychoactive drugs, can only temporarily blunt the pain.
Pain is not a concrete thing located in a single place in the body, but a state of whole body self-awareness and that self-awareness can alter and possibly extinguish the sense of pain. There may be input signal coming into the brain, but how it is felt and how we relate to it emotionally (fear or acceptance) can be changed, perhaps permanently, by becoming more aware of it.
Find a quiet place to sit or lie down, inside or outside, wherever you feel completely safe and comfortable. As best you can, come to rest inside yourself. Let you body sink into gravity as much as you are able.
Locate the painful area (your head, neck, back, leg, or wherever). If you can, feel the boundaries of the pain: is it the whole leg, just in the thigh, or localized to just above the knee on the inside of your leg, etc. Your headache may be just behind your right eye, or just over your left ear. Shift your awareness between painful areas and adjacent non-painful areas. Notice the differences. Let the non-painful parts “talk to” the painful parts. This is often enough to start the pain “moving,” or “softening.”
Observe the pain as your friend, be aware of the pain as your friend. Be totally with your pain as you are with your friend. Talk to the pain as you talk with your intimate friend. Do whatever you want with the pain, as you do with your intimate friend.
Try to feel the pain totally, till the pain shifts away, the pain shifts far far away. You may not be able to do this at first. Try again and again till you get a mastery of this process. It may take multiple tries and multiple sessions. If this method doesn’t work for you, try a different one. You can have a whole collection of techniques – no limit — if that helps ok.
In this process, you are working through the pain. You first have to convince your body that it is safe to go in there and feel it. Having accomplished that, you can begin to deepen your body sense of that pain. You may be surprised that the pain morphs from physical to emotional (sadness, anger, fear, love) and back again. It may even change locations or be felt at multiple locations in your body.
When you really know the pain and all its forms and faces, because you have fully felt it and followed its movements in your body sense, it may eventually lessen in intensity and disappear completely.
Doing this practice will help to make the pain your friend. It can now objectively inform you of when you need to pay attention to yourself, just like any good friend who will tell you the truth about yourself.