Archive for Presence

How can we deal with chronic pain?

We all know the experience of pain, whether it be physical or emotional. It is a state in which we cannot sit still, a state that our minds refuse to accept. This is true almost by design. When our hand touches that hot stove, it is the mind’s complete nonacceptance of the resulting pain that causes the hand’s instant withdrawal. In such cases of acute pain the remedy is immediate and obvious, and the benefit of the pain is clear. However, at times we must also deal with chronic pain, where the remedy is neither as simple nor as apparent as merely withdrawing our hand from a stove.

How can we deal with chronic pain? One step that is helpful to try and look at exactly what that pain is. What is it that we are feeling right at that instant? If we are not currently experiencing pain, we can practise this exercise now simply by pinching our arm and observing the sensation. What we find may be surprising. We find that it is not the sensation itself that is actually causing our pain. Instead, the part that is so unbearable is our mind’s complete refusal to accept that sensation. We want scream because it hurts so badly, and our minds try to flee from the feeling, and yet really, if we actually force ourselves to feel the sensation for what it is, we will find that it is almost neutral.

The lesson here is that pain is essentially a mental construct. Another way to look at it is to say that it is not the pain that hurts, but rather our reaction to the pain. This is an important observation in our management of physical pain, and is equally important for managing emotional pain. Take feelings such as grief, depression, or even common unhappiness: what are these feelings really like? When we observe them closely we find, as with physical pain, that the actual part that hurts is hard to define. We find that the feeling of pain breaks down under close observation, because that pain is ultimately a mental construct and is not really solid. We may consider ourselves depressed, but there is not really a force hanging around with us right now that is making us feel this way. We may examine our depression and come up with a bunch of thoughts that justify why our life is so bad, but we do not have to think these thoughts, and nor do we have to conclude from them that life is bad. Depression, being a form of pain, is simply another example of suffering as a result of refusing to accept a situation. Once again, it is not the sequence of events that has hurt us, but rather our reaction to them. The same is true of grief, of boredom, and of fear.

Thus, next time we feel any kind of pain, we should examine it more closely. We must see it for what it is. We must observe as closely as we can the actual sensation or event that is supposedly causing this hurt, and try to understand that it is our reaction that is actually the problem. This way of dealing with pain goes against our preconditioning and it takes practice to become proficient. However, when we succeed, it will completely transform our relationship to pain. Pain will not longer be seen as an enemy, but rather as a helpful signal that we are grateful to have. It is not something to fear and run from, but something to look at and experience exactly as it is.

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Relaxing the mind: an every day holiday

The most peaceful moment in time is Now. No matter what is going through our heads, we can drop it all at any time, and rest in the Now. The way to do this is to simply be with the task at hand. When stressful, destructive, or upsetting thoughts arise, we release them, and return to whatever we are doing. In this way, resting the attention with an activity provides us with a holiday from our worries, and allows the mind to refresh and rejuvenate.

We all know that things are better after a good night’s sleep. The principle is that taking our mind off things makes us refreshed, relaxed, and able to deal with life positively. Resting the attention with an activity provides the same boost. If we have a fight with our partner and angry retorts and injustices are whirling around in our heads, a great thing to do is wash the dishes. As thoughts of the fight arise, we gently release them, and continue washing the dishes. Whatever issues that we had with our partner will still be there when we finish the dishes – we have plenty of time to deal with them. However, when we finish with the dishes, we may also find that some of those so-called important issues have faded away. Taking our mind off things for a while gives us a great deal more perspective, which almost always results in a more positive outlook.

We all have different activities that we find relaxing in life. Some of us like to go for a run. Others read a book. For some of us, the only time that we take our mind off things is in sleep, and even this may be plagued with dreams or insomnia. The good news is that with a little practice we can find almost anything relaxing. The trick is just to let the attention rest with it – whether it be leisure or work. Even the most unpleasant of tasks is refreshing when we do this.

Destructive emotions reside in the past and the future. When we feel sad or angry, it is not usually related to the task directly in front of us. Although it is definitely important to deal with issues in our life, and to give the mind time to wander and think creatively, it is also important that we can drop things when we choose to do so. During our morning shower, we may contemplate that fight with our partner, and think of how we would like things to be different. This is fine, but if such thoughts continue non-stop throughout the day, we quickly become worn out and irrational. Thinking must be controlled, and perspective must be maintained. The ability to drop thoughts and return to the present moment is one of the most important skills we can ever develop.

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