I have spent years running away from chronic pain, believing that my only chance at joy could be found in the absence of its constant presence. Recently I was confronted with an idea utterly contradictory to this- that in embracing my pain just as it is, peace can be found in that very moment.
Jon Kabat-Zinn’s “Mindfulness Mediation for Pain Relief: Guided Practices for Reclaiming Your Body and Your Life” has become a part of my daily practice. I am finding that carving out ten to thirty minutes to just BE with my pain, is something I actually look forward to. I get to listen to it, breath with it, nurture it. You see, I am just coming to terms with the fact that my pain has something to tell me, something it has been trying to tell me for seventeen years. And as I grew more stubborn, more set in my ways of what would work for the pain or not, more preoccupied with the next thing to try ON the pain rather than focusing on the pain itself, it made sure to grow in intensity.
Over the years I have waffled back and forth between aggressively attacking the pain with whatever new therapy was next on the list, to giving up completely. The cycle of exerting a lot of effort with high expectations, only to be let down when the therapy did not work, was too emotionally crushing for me. So I would give up until the thought of living with this pain forever became too much to bear, then I would research and throw myself into another round of “getting better.” But I have always been looking for the solution outside of myself. And I have endlessly avoided looking into the roots of my suffering.
Reading up on the Four Noble Truths of Buddhism gave me great insight into how to connect with my suffering and relieve it. My hope was restored and my faith in myself strengthened. (See “The Heart of the Buddha’s Teachings: Transforming Suffering into Peace, Joy, and Liberation” by Thich Nhat Hanh) There is no cure in it, only mindfulness. This path of self-discovery could lead me to less pain, or it could not. The point is, there is no goal, no expectation, and no end result already in mind. I am just listening to my pain to listen, being with it just to befriend it.
Tara Brach’s cd series “Radical Self Acceptance: A Buddhist Guide to Freeing Yourself from Shame” has kept me on this path of sticking with it. Showing myself love, and letting go of judgment for being less than perfect, makes it a lot easier to embrace this holistic practice. It would be easy to drop off and add pain meditation to the list of failed therapies. In all likelihood, it will not be a cure. Some of that healing will come from within and some of the pain is so ingrained in my system now, that bodywork and more experimental therapies may be necessary. For the time being, I am going to be okay with where I am at. In the body I have. And I am going to keep sitting with it, day after day.
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