Posted by john the younger on 05/23/2008 06:36:45
What is one to do when faced with physical pain? Take or offer a pain
reliever or remove the offending part is often what the medical
community suggests. What if the pain persists or the pain reliever
doesn’t work? What if the side effects render the patient unable to
This best describes my adult daughter for ten out of the twelve last
years of her life. She went to mindfulness classes which is what got
me first interested in this work. She was asked to read and practice
the suggestions of being mindful by Jon Kabat-Zinn, a medical doctor
trying to help those with chronic pain. I branched out my research on
mindfulness to include others who looked at mindfulness in other
ways. I was not then nor am I now in chronic pain.
The closest I’ve come to “unbearable” pain was on two occasions: the
first was at a Vipassana ten day silent retreat when for eight of the
ten days I sat with what felt like a hot knife under my right shoulder
blade. No change of posture gave any relief! I was asked to continue
with the top to bottom awareness scan of my body as though the pain
wasn’t there. I was asked to practice being equanimous with the
pain. I was told the “pain” was a gift to sharpen my mindfulness
practice. *Bah humbug,* I thought but stubbornness more than anything
caused me to continue with the retreat. The necessity was increased! I
noticed the intensity began to vary and its shape wasn’t always the
same. That “pain” occasionally revisits me in lesser intensity and
for the most part I acknowledge its presence and move on.
The second occasion was with kidney stones. I'm told it’s the male
equivalent of giving birth without an epidural. On that occasion
(when pain meds did nothing) I used a more intensive mindfulness
technique on the “pain” as described in http://shinzen.org/Home.asp?
and in the shortened version
My daughter didn’t seem to get any relief from the training she
received but the last two years have been relatively pain free. After
multiple spinal surgeries, her last one was to implant a neuro-
stimulator (the equivalent of a pace maker) in her spinal column which
creates an electrical “noise” blocking out the pain messages to her
brain. She has been at near “normal” functioning for these last two
Another teacher takes a more “reasoned” approach by saying that
physical pain is essential for our learning process. Like the pain
when we first touch a hot pan. When we are in physical pain it is
Life’s way of telling us that an adaptation is in process and that we
should not add to the pain with anxiety, worry, fear, etc. But that
is a long complicated discussion for another time.
No one easily hears or sees another in chronic pain. Often such
raises feelings of helplessness, maybe even anger that we can do
nothing, or resentment that another is getting all the attention, etc.
Sometimes it raises one’s compassionate juices, we talk softly, make
an effort to be kinder than we might otherwise, take on chores for the
one in pain, etc. Pain of others can be a “teacher” for those in
their proximity. It has been for me. My wife has been in chronic pain
with Crohn's for the last 15 years.
Deirdre, I hope your physical pain subsides and that the suffering
lessens. My thoughts and good wishes for a swift recovery are with
you and your loved ones.
Love, john the younger