Meditation For Managing Chronic Pain
Like everyone, I have good days and not so good days.
For me, this is often linked to how much pain I’m in on a given day, but it can also be just the normal ups and downs of life.
In fact, pain itself is not so much the cause of a low mood as it is an inconvenience. It stops me from being as active as I’d like to be, as active as I used to be. What’s worse than the pain is the story my mind creates around the pain, eg it will always be like this; it will only get worse; this means that I’m reaching my ‘use-by date’; why can’t it be like it once was; I wish it were different; if only, it shouldn’t, and so on. The brain is an amazing organ and it can create the worst possible scenarios … but that’s the point: the brain creates the scenarios. The reality is your present moment experience, the thoughts are what the experience might mean. And this is what causes most of our suffering.
So what can we do? There are two aspects to the solution:
- If you need to grieve over a loss of self, how things once were, that’s ok. You’re human and grief is a normal human emotion. Grief is not the same as self-pity, rather it’s self-compassion. If you’ve experienced a loss of some aspect of self (for me it’s my self-image of being physically strong, fit, able to do whatever activities I like), then we need time to accept this loss and to farewell that part of ourself. Grief in this form is self-compassion, self-kindness, not self-pity. It’s how we would respond to a close friend or family member who had experienced this loss.
- During this period of self-compassion, meditation is extremely useful. We connect with the intangible self, the part of ourself that can observe the grieving process and understands when the grief has moved on. Because all emotions will move on if you give them space to. We don’t suppress it, we don’t indulge in it, we just acknowledge and allow, ie acknowledge the negative emotion and give it space to move on.
Sitting in quiet meditation and allowing the noise of the mind to pass by brings awareness of your own inner strength. In meditation you’re no longer in the midst of all the noise, rather you’re sitting at the boundary observing it. This brings perspective, an understanding of the transience of everything in life, even of negative emotions.
This meditation is not an opportunity to wallow in self-pity, thinking of all the things that are not right in our life. Instead we observe each negative thought as it appears and then choose to shift our attention back to the breath. By observing the breath we can also stay in touch with our emotional temperature, as the breath will change according to our emotions.
In time, the negative emotions pass. And then, perhaps, they return. But by now, our experience tells us that we just need to be patient, and they will pass again.
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