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Use Meditations to Deal with Your Pain

You can use any mindfulness meditations to help you cultivate a more non-judgmental, curious and compassionate awareness towards your pain. Here are a few to try (begin with the breath meditation):

  • Mindfulness of breath meditation.

  • Body scan meditation.

  • Sitting (expanding awareness) meditation.

  • Mindful stretching, yoga or t’ai chi.

Here’s a guided meditation specifically for working with pain. You can read this meditation out, record it and then listen to it as you practice, or you can read one paragraph, do the practice for a few minutes and then read the next paragraph and so on. Ellipses (. . .) indicate times for you to pause and reflect.

  1. Find a position that minimizes the pain for you.

    You may like to sit up straight, need to lie down or adopt some other position that’s best for you. Feel free to use cushions and blankets to make you feel at ease.

  2. Turn your attention towards your out-breaths.

    You may be feeling all sorts of pain pulling at your attention, preventing you from being able to concentrate.

    That’s understandable, so don’t beat yourself up about it. Just try and feel your next out-breath (a half-breath) and feel it all the way out . . . If that was possible, try the next out-breath . . . Feel the breath all the way out, no matter how much your painful sensations seem to be calling out . . . .

  3. Have a go at feeling your next in-breath when you’re ready.

    Just feel your in-breaths . . . Sustain your attention for the whole duration of your in-breath, as best you can . . . Notice if that was possible . . . If so, try the next in-breath, feeling it despite any painful sensations seeking your awareness . . . .

  4. Feel each in-breath and each out-breath, if you can. . . .

    Being mindful of your breathing, one half-breath at a time. Taking things slowly, half-breath after half-breath . . . in-breath followed by out-breath. Your pain is still present but your focus is on your breath. . . .

  5. Bring an attitude of curiosity and discovery.

    See what happens as you practice being with the breath . . . gently sustaining your breath with a certain sense of determination . . . .

  6. If your attention is overwhelmed by the sensation of pain, try shifting your focus.

    Perhaps move your attention towards your difficult sensation and experiment breathing into it, imagining that your breath can go in and out of the pain . . . Allow your breath to wash over the painful sensation . . . like the tides of the ocean . . . breathing into and out of the sensation of pain.

    In this way, you’re feeling your breathing and your painful sensation together, as a whole, allowing them to co-exist in your awareness . . . .

  7. Don’t try and get rid of the sensation of pain, make it diminish or change it.

    Just bring mindfulness to painful sensations, an awareness with non-judgment — just feeling the sensation itself . . . Allowing your breath to wash over the pain, just as the ocean washes over the shore. Sustaining your attention in this area, and just seeing what happens . . . .

  8. Bring a quality of warmth, kindness, gentleness and tenderness to your intense, unwanted sensation, a quality of befriending. . . .

    You may discover that the sensation isn’t fixed but changing, fluctuating, subtly moving. Try to discover the changing nature of the feeling of pain if you can . . . .

  9. Reflect on the following question: Is my observing self in pain or just my physical self?

    You may get a sense of yourself as awareness, as free of the pain itself. If so, take time to explore it . . . noticing what happens . . . Perhaps you can see your awareness as being bigger than your pain, because your awareness contains not only your pain, but also your breathing and perhaps some other bodily sensations . . . .

  10. If you experience a whirlwind of thoughts and emotions during this meditation, notice that these are thoughts and not necessarily a reflection of reality . . .

    You may notice that when these thoughts arise, you also experience an echo within your body. The thought stories that you tell yourself are very likely having an impact on your experience. See if you can notice this . . . Emotions are fuelled by thoughts and you may feel them in your body. Watch all this happening as best you can.

    Seeing this subtle yet relentless process puts it out in the open, and opens up the possibility of meeting your mind and its ways . . . .

  11. Notice that the word ‘pain’ is a thought.

    How often does the word ‘pain’ arise in your mind while you’re feeling your pain? . . . You may like to explore the possibility, maybe just for a breath or two to begin with, of feeling your pain without the thought. Begin to see what effect the word ‘pain’ has on your difficult sensation . . . .

  12. Practice opening your awareness to other experiences, as best you can.

    Even if only for a few moments, see whether you can step back into the open, spacious awareness and watch whatever experience is most predominant for you. This may very well be your painful sensation, or it may be your thoughts, emotions within your body, or even sounds or other experiences. Bring the qualities of curiosity or interest and open-heartedness to your experience and take things moment-by-moment . . . .

  13. Bring this meditation to a close when you’re ready.

    See if you can continue to keep a mindful, spacious open-hearted awareness into your next activity.

After having a go at the meditation, answer the following questions. Don’t worry about answering them in detail; whatever you can manage is great!

  • Did you manage to get yourself into a suitable, comfortable position? Would you experiment with a different posture next time, and if so, which one?

  • Were you able to focus on one half-breath at a time? What did you notice?

  • Did you explore the effect of feeling the sensation of discomfort in your body, together with your breathing? What happened when you did this?

  • What sort of thoughts and emotions arose for you? Did you explore seeing thoughts as thoughts rather than looking at your experience from thoughts? And what sort of emotions came up and where did you feel them in your body?

  • How much did you manage to accept your feelings of pain at the end of the meditation, compared to the beginning? Did you spot any shift in the way you related to your pain, and if so, how? The tiniest change is what you’re looking for — a very small step is perfectly fine.

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