“Pain is inevitable, but suffering is optional.” ~ Unknown Author
How often do we pause to notice and be with our pain - whether in the body, heart or mind?
If we can pause, even if for a moment, we may notice a sudden reactivity bias based in fear. The way we perceive "pain" is usually by labeling it as bad or wrong and then we immediately push it away with resistance. If we reflect a bit longer and deeper, we may even notice associations we make with pain through underlying thoughts or stories that begin to hook us or attach us to the pain. The self-dialogue can continue into a never-ending (and deepening) loop that often intensifies the current and subsequent painful experience.
How can we begin relating with pain mindfully? Dr. Christiane Wolf illustrates some helpful tips for mindfully engaging with pain. I have added and modified somewhat:
1. The moment we enter a painful experience, just pause (even if for a second)
2. Allow a softening and kindness toward self (and others)
3. Meet this experience as if for the first time (if pain is chronic or trauma-based, read #5)
4. Allow the experience to be there fully, just as it is - no resistance or avoidance. Just breathe.
5. Inquiring with a gentle curiosity into the physical sensations, emotions and thoughts - if we can sit for a few minutes and notice even when we are feeling a painful emotion, there is typically an accompanying physical sensation in the body - where is it? Feel it and offer kindness there as much as you are able.
6. Without identifying with the pain - As we notice when we sit with our pain, there is so much to experience - changing sensations, thoughts and feelings; they simply and naturally subside with time. Its the identification of I, me, mine and stories that we associate, project, fantasize or imagine that keep us locked in the pain. Simply try and notice and let go with patience and kindness.
7. Mindfully Breathing in and breathing out as much as we are able in the process of pain is extremely helpful in dis-identifying with pain. Much like a camera lens zooms out to capture the wider view of its subject, we too can use the breath as an anchor to zoom out as we witness the pain without the identification of it.
*During this practice - either formal sitting or as thoughts and feelings arise during the day - it will be helpful to notice the difference between a thought and feeling as well as the tone that each carries - either positive, negative or neutral. A thought can think judging, labeling, blaming, believing, criticizing, analyzing, comparing, generalizing, worrying, desiring, expecting, admiring, attaching, predicting, rejecting and so on; even though we are thinking our thoughts, they are often turned or focused outward, toward another or an experience. A feeling can feel excited, joyful, confident, connected, curious, content, happy, grateful, sad, mad, anxious, insulted, self-conscious, frustrated, disconnected and so on. Feelings live within us and although turned inward, often go un-recognized even for years or decades. As we notice the stream of thoughts and feelings and sensations (the physical feelings in the body that accompany thoughts and feelings - heat, tingling, heaviness, tightness, etc.) moment to moment, we also observe they are always changing; we can allow each to come and go as patiently and gently as we are able...and most importantly, to do so with kindness to ourselves in the process 💜.
Author: Nina Bhatty
If you found this article to be helpful or you have questions or comments, feel free to provide feedback in the 'comments' section below or message me privately.