I am a forty-five-year-old woman who suffered a spinal injury thirty years ago that has resulted in a legacy of on-going physical pain. Of course this has been difficult to live with, but some twenty years ago I had a significant experience that radically changed my perspective on life and plunged me into the wonder of living in ‘the present moment’.
I was in an intensive care ward at the time, with an acute deterioration of my condition. I had been bedridden for several months and unable to sit up, but on this occasion I had undergone a diagnostic procedure that required me to sit up for several hours afterwards. During this long night of intense pain I felt myself sliding towards the edge of madness.
I spent hours with two internal voices locked in combat – one voice convinced I could not stay sane till morning and the other willing me to do so. It was an incredibly intense, brittle, heart-breaking experience.
Then, suddenly, my experience completely changed when I heard a quiet inner voice saying: “You don’t have to get through till morning; you only have to get through the present moment”. It was like a house of cards collapsing, revealing the space that had been present all along, if only I could have recognised it. My experience immediately changed from an agonised, contracted state to one that was soft and rich – despite the physical pain. At that moment of relaxing into the present moment, just as it was, I intuitively knew I had tasted something true.
I later found a way of making sense of this experience through the teachings of Buddhism and have spent the past 20 years training my heart and mind, using meditation and mindfulness. I was ordained into the Western Buddhist Order in 1995 and for several years I have taught meditation and mindfulness practice to others who live with pain and illness.
Below are some tips and pointers drawn from the methods I have developed that you mind find helpful if you are living with discomfort or pain. Please explore these as you wish, alongside any other treatments or therapies you may be receiving. Mindfulness practice can ‘complement’ conventional medicine in a helpful way.
Vidyamala is a co-founder and director of Breathworks, a company offering ‘mindfulness-based strategies for living well’.
She runs courses in Manchester UK for people suffering from chronic pain and illness, teaching them how to optimize quality of life using meditation and other mindfulness-based strategies. She also is involved in running a training program for those wishing to deliver the Breathworks programme in other localities.
She suffered a spinal injury in 1976 and has used meditation and mindfulness to manage her own chronic pain for many years.
Vidyamala’s CDs of guided meditations — developed as part of her Breathworks pain management program — are available for sale in our online store.