The tips that follow are aimed at helping you to accept your primary suffering and reduce your secondary suffering.
See if you can stay in the present moment as much as you can. Whenever you notice that your mind has wandered off into the future or the past, gently bring it back. This doesn’t mean you can’t think about the past or future, but try not to get too caught up with these thoughts.
Investigate the process you call ‘pain’. You will notice it is in fact a mass of sensations, not a thing. Get to know it as actual, felt experience, rather than getting too caught up with thoughts about it. Notice how it is always changing from one sensation to another, no matter how dense and solid it may feel.
Move towards the pain. See if you can soften around any resistance you may feel towards it. This is counter-intuitive but if you try to ignore it or push it away, it will just scream louder. Use the breath to help with this (see meditation that follows).
Kindness and gentleness are crucial. Treat pain as you’d treat an injured loved one. See if you can find a tender attitude of heart.
Once you have gently acknowledged the pain you can then broaden out your field of awareness to look for any pleasure that is also going on in the moment. Notice experiences such as sun on the skin, being with a loved one, noticing flowers by the bed etc. There will always be something pleasurable in your experience, no matter how subtle. Let the pain be just one of several things you are aware of in the moment.
With this honest, tender attitude to all the shades of physical, emotional and mental experiences in the present moment you can then choose how you respond to things. This is the point of creativity – how we respond/act in this moment sets up conditions for the next moment. You can always insert a moment of choice no matter how far down the line you’ve gone into distress and anguish.
Any moment can be an opportunity for learning if we come back to the actual sensations of the present moment rather than getting lost in thoughts and reactions. See if you can let both pain and pleasure be held within this broad perspective: neither contracting tightly against pain nor clinging tightly to pleasure. Allow all sensations to come into being and pass away moment by moment.
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.