Ease the Emotional Suffering of Pain with Mindfulness

Mindfulness is about separating the physical sensation of pain from the emotional suffering that’s automatically generated in your being, and so you discover how to bring your awareness to the pain with mindful attitudes. In this section, we describe some ways to manage your pain mindfully.

Live in the moment

When suffering from pain, you can find yourself thinking about the past and how good it used to be, and the future and how bleak it may seem, and get caught up and repeatedly re-engage with these stories. But one of the key benefits of using mindfulness for pain is discovering how to live in the present moment — the only time that really exists.

You can ‘be’ with almost any pain knowing that you only have to be with it for this moment and don’t need to keep re-experiencing it. You can then begin to learn to live your life, moment by moment, with a sense of kindness for yourself, connecting with your senses and experiences around you, and creatively and flexibly exploring ways of coping with the pain.

Instead of being overwhelmed by thinking of the entire day that you need to face, break things down. Start with breakfast. Take the meal step by step. See if you can taste one single spoonful of food. And if so, try the next one. Then move on, say, to your shower. Notice the temperature of the water for a few moments if you can.

By breaking down your tasks and maintaining your attention in the moment, you may not feel so anxious about the day as a whole.

Aim to just be your best rather than beating yourself up for not managing to be mindful perfectly — that’s just not possible. Doing what you can is perfect.

Move from anger to kindness

You may quite understandably hate your pain. You want to fight it and make it go away. But unfortunately you can’t win the battle that way because fighting your pain turns on your stress response. Your muscles begin to tense up and you release stress hormones into your bloodstream. Tensing your muscles is bound to increase your physical pain, which leads to a vicious circle.

Mindfulness encourages you to consider meeting the pain with a sense of kindness. This attitude may seem counterintuitive, but it is really helpful in beginning to relieve the stress of bracing against the pain.

When you’re feeling your pain, gently turn your attention towards it. If you can, bring a tiny, or even minuscule, feeling of affection towards it.

What happened to your experience and level of pain and suffering when you tried this exercise? Did you discover anything interesting?

See yourself as the observer of the pain

You aren’t just your physical body, your sensations or your thoughts or emotions. You’re also the observer — pure awareness beyond thoughts and emotions — that allows you to experience things.

Consider that dimension of yourself, as whole, complete and free from all suffering. See whether you can say to yourself, ‘I’m observing the pain right now’ rather than ‘I’m in pain!’ Have a little go at feeling the pain sensation itself with a sense of curiosity rather than just negative judgment.

Try identifying yourself with the observer of the experience, rather than the experience itself. The sensation still exists, but perhaps you feel a little less of the tension and stress around the sensation. This exercise isn’t easy, but have a go as an experiment. See what happens and then address the following questions.

What happened to your level of pain and suffering when you tried this? What did you discover?

Keep a mindful pain journal

Maintaining a journal of when, where and how much pain you suffer is useful for several reasons:

  • You’re carrying out a mindfulness activity in itself. When you notice what you’re doing day to day and the level of pain you’re experiencing, you can spot patterns and adjust your lifestyle to manage your pain more mindfully.

  • You can more accurately report how your pain levels fluctuate to your doctor, who may then be able to identify more accurately what you need to manage your pain effectively.

  • You’re doing something (keeping a diary) that’s emotionally healthy. You can write about how you’re feeling each day, expressing your fears and concerns without holding back. You may want to include motivating ideas, inspiring quotes and how your relationships are going. In this way you can ease your stress and have a positive impact on your pain levels.

The power of mindfulness lies in being with your moment-by-moment experiences, just as they are, instead of wanting them to be different.

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