You may like someone to read this to you, or to dictate it onto a tape or CD.
To begin with make sure the body is in as comfortable a position as possible, either sitting in a chair or lying down on the bed or the floor. Allow the weight of the body to settle down towards the earth, taking a few deeper breaths and letting go a little bit more on each out breath.
Now allow the breath to settle and to find its own natural rhythm, letting the breath breathe itself. Try not to interfere with this process, and notice how the body moves in response to the breath: the chest expanding and relaxing, the belly rising and falling. If your breath is affected in any way by your illness or pain, then just noting this with a kindly, gentle awareness. Try to let go of any ideas about how you think it ought to be, and just rest with an awareness of how things actually are for you in each moment.[Pause]
Sometimes it can help to include an image with a sense of the breath: you can imagine a wave flowing up the beach, turning, and flowing back out to sea again, noticing how the movement of the breath has a rhythm very like this. Or you might have another image that you find evocative and calming. Use your imagination in your own way to help the mind and the body settle around the breath.[Pause]
Notice how each breath is unique, how no two breaths are the same. Notice the texture, the quality, and the duration of each breath. If you notice the body or the mind tensing up around your experience, in the noticing you can gently let go again without judgement. Do this over and over again if necessary with a kindly, gentle awareness.
Include any pain or discomfort in the body within your broad field of awareness. Very often we resist feelings of pain or discomfort, and this just leads to more tension, more pain and more discomfort. Use the breath to help soften the hard edges around the pain and allow a tender, gentle awareness to permeate the in- and the out-breaths. As you use the breath to soften resistance to the pain or discomfort, you may notice how the experience of pain is in fact a constantly changing mass of different sensations. Experience how it comes into being and passes away moment by moment.[Pause]
Now you can broaden out your experience even more to invite in the pleasurable dimensions of your field of awareness. They might be very subtle, such as tingling in the fingers, some sort of pleasure around the breath, or maybe the sun is shining through the window onto the skin. In your own way scanning through your whole experience and noticing little moments of pleasure, no matter how fleeting – arising and falling with each moment.
You may notice that each moment of life contains elements that are painful and elements which are pleasurable. This is the way things are in this world for everyone. Notice the tendency to harden against pain and to grasp after pleasure, and in the noticing relax back into the broad field of awareness.[Pause]
Now broaden out your awareness still more to include an awareness of others. Become aware that all humanity experiences a mixture of pain and pleasure moment by moment in much the way that you do. The stories of our lives are unique, but the range of basic human experience and emotions will be very similar. We all have hopes and dreams, fears and regrets, no matter where we live, our age, color or wealth. In this way we can allow our own experience of pain and illness to become a moment of empathy for others who are in pain, or who are ill, rather than a moment of isolation. All life suffers in one way or another. All life experiences pleasure in one way or another.
In the same way that you imbued the breath with a kindly awareness towards your own experience, you can now allow a kindly awareness to permeate the in- and the out-breaths as you think of others. Maybe you can get a sense of the whole world breathing – all life breathing like waves on the ocean. Rising and falling. Allow a sense of the hard edges of separation to soften, letting go into a sense of all that we share and a feeling of connection with all life as you sit or lie here resting quietly with the breath moment by moment.
Rest with this quality of awareness for as long as feels appropriate for you at this time.[Pause]
Now in your own time bring the meditation to a close. Come back to a full awareness of the body lying on the bed or sitting on the chair. Feel in firm contact with the earth. Tune into the movements of the breath in the body and gradually externalise your awareness. When you’re ready gently open the eyes, take in your surroundings, and re-engage with the day. See if you can take this quality of awareness with you on into your life as it unfolds moment by moment.
When practicing meditation it is important to let go of craving a certain outcome, for example a reduction of pain. The pain may go on for a long time! This does not mean you’ve failed or not meditated correctly. It is just the way things are when one is ill or has an injured body. There is no need for blame or judgment. But remember that even if the body is painful and ill, the mind and heart can experience moments of peace and calm, even a sense of freedom. Meditation can guide us through the doorway to these moments and teach us how to rest there with an honest heart.
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 program 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.