Mind Your Pain
"Numbing the pain for a while will only make it worse when you finally feel it." - J.K. Rowling.
Yes this quote is from Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire but that’s neither here nor there because it relates directly to my last post! Recall Patanjali’s conviction that the answer to freeing ourselves from pain is to see everything as painful. It can be easily misinterpreted, and that’s because there’s a catch. He doesn’t mean we literally feel pain in every instance, but rather that when we approach everything as such we cultivate neutrality and equanimity towards all situations, leading to a peaceful state of being. It seems confusing that pain can lay the foundation for peace, but as the genius Ms. Rowling notes, disregarding the pain only leads to more suffering. From discomfort to agony, there are a number of ways to cope with these stresses so that they eventually feel no different than any other moment in time.
When we are deep in the rubble of sorrow, anxiety or defeat, one way to rebuild our foundation of calm is to shift from being the doer to the seer, Mindfulness allows you to witness the pain and its associated anxieties, but without any judgement...
Take just 10 minutes and sit in silence. Simply observe the thoughts that come into your mind; take notice of how you feel when you act as the observer of the (emotional, physical or mental) pain, versus the creator (or the victim) of it. Did your shoulders relax away from your ears? Maybe your jaw stopped clenching. If you feel it coming into the mind, acknowledge it...but then set it aside. A friend recently said to me that we should not dismiss our problems, but instead put them in the back seat. “Don’t let them sit next to you,” she told me, “but don’t kick them out of the car.” They are important to our healing.
What you hold onto could be guilt or regret about the past, fear about the future, or even pain in the physical body. And we know that emotional stress leads to physical illness, and vice versa.. Mindfulness meditation, like all meditation, reframes our reaction to suffering because it literally reshapes the parts of the brain where cognitive evaluation and control live. A 2011 study* put this to the test, finding that after just 4 days of mindfulness meditation, subjects reported a 57% reduction in pain unpleasantness and 40% reduction in pain intensity when compared to resting. The best part is that mindfulness meditation translates directly into mindful everyday thinking so you can begin to practice this when pain first starts to come up. You’ll start noticing yourself slowing down in the moment of suffering to observe - reflecting rather than reacting. You may notice yourself saying a sort of mantra like “this is really hard right now.” You may even start to see it as separate from yourself, like another person sitting in the back seat. The pain will stop being so immediate, so dramatic...and it’s not because you banished or overcame it. It’s because you did just the opposite.
In the end, the law of attraction will determine the outcome of any situation. If we engage with our suffering Self in a negative way (thoughts like, “why me”, “of course this is happening”, or expecting the worst) we plant the seeds for more negative thoughts, words and actions to bloom. Instead, let us recognize and reflect on our sources of pain. Let them linger, sit with them, learn from them. They are helping us grow. They are telling us that were are exactly where we need to be in order to do so.