Wildmind Buddhist Meditation

Meditation and Pain

Sit : Love : Give

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Tips to help you deal with pain

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.

About Vidyamala

guest writer VidyamalaVidyamala 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.

Comments

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Comment from Ekaterina Trinquart
Time: July 2, 2007, 9:08 am

Dear Vidyamala,
I would like to thank you for the tips and advice on your website! I am about to give birth for the first time and have been battling with pelvic & pubic bone pain for the past 4 months or so. Your words are like a mind-lotion to me! I am not that experienced in meditation, just one of the many things I am interested in, but your website has definately given me something to look forward to and accept the birth of my child as a delightful experience and not excrutiating pain! I am going to pay a lot more attention from now on! THANK YOU AND BE BLESSED!

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Comment from Vidyamala
Time: July 2, 2007, 2:12 pm

Dear Ekatarina

How lovely to receive your comments! I am glad that my words have helped you deal with the pain you are experiencing. I had a friend who had similar pain and it eased up after the birth, so I really hope this is the case for you too. And you’ll have this wonderful new being in your life. If you want to try meditating you could try the CDs I have made, available from the Wildmind site.

Best wishes to you, Vidyamala

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Comment from Megan
Time: November 12, 2007, 2:40 pm

Your words have helped me deal with emotional pain I have been having. My perspective has changed and I feel that I have the ability to accept it. Although it keeps coming back, it lessens every time. Thank you.

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Comment from Bijan
Time: November 25, 2007, 12:43 pm

I cant thank you enough for the tips that were placed onto the site. It has given me a form of understanding over the emotional pain ive been going trough for the past month. Thank you

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Comment from gabriel
Time: February 20, 2008, 1:12 pm

yes you are a very wise person thank you for sharing with the world i found this by fate and it has helped me
i had an impacted wisdom tooth
and had surgey to have it pulled
the pain is great but when i focus on your technics THEY WORK !!!
thank you

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Comment from Ingrid
Time: August 21, 2008, 7:01 pm

I came across this page because I am a long distance runner, and I deal with pain all the time. I couldn’t believe it, but these techniques somehow lessened the pain. Thank you so much. I took 30 seconds off my 5k time, and I think I owe it partly to you!

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Comment from Kim
Time: October 21, 2008, 5:59 am

Dear Vidyamala

Thank you for Posting this. It is indeed true and it helPed me to systematically dissolve the Pain in my heart.
Today has been one of those suPer bad terrible days. I feel heartache and alot of rage and injustice.
I’m at work right now trying to let it Pass.
If you can read this mail. And if anyone else can talk me out of this misery.

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Comment from Michele
Time: October 22, 2008, 11:28 pm

Dear Vidyamala

I’m trying to follow the steps in your meditation but am stuck. I can’t seem to move towards the pain, or treat it tenderly. I still see it as the enemy and have a lot of negative feelings towards it because it’s stopping me from living my life and trapping me in my room. How do I work through this? Thanks

Regards,

Michele

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Comment from vidyamala
Time: October 31, 2008, 9:16 am

Dear Michele

I am really sorry I have not replied sooner but I’ve been away. It is very hard to treat pain tenderly! I know this so please don’t give yourself a hard time if you see it as the enemy still. The way I see it is that it is a very GRADUAL process – we might have one moment of softness and then 100 moments of tension; then maybe the next day have 2 moments of softness and 100 moments of tension. The key is perseverance, not giving up and the way to bring about change is through practising meditation. I would really recommend daily body scans. This way you don’t have to try and do anything to move towards your pain – it just happens through doing the practice. Very gradually you’ll find your attitude changing through regular body scans. You can get a download or CD from wildmind. Good luck!
Vidyamala

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Comment from Sandy
Time: November 3, 2008, 12:47 am

I have had back knee and neck pain for almost 3 years, listening to these cds help lessen my pain but when I am done listening to the cd’s I still fight with anger of being in pain, being in a wheel chair and being imprisioned in my home due to the pain, hate going out because everytime I do leave the home my pain is greater gradually I hope to figure all this pain out to some how treat myself with more respect and learn my limits and just be able to learn how to live with the pain and still have peace in my life with 2 young children

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Comment from vidyamala
Time: November 17, 2008, 8:26 am

Hi sandy

thanks for writing and the best of luck with everything! It takes time to come to terms with these things, but every bit of mindfulness practice helps!

love Vidyamala

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Comment from Matthew
Time: February 15, 2009, 9:13 am

Hi Vidyamala,

This is exactly how I have intuitively lived with 7 years of agonising central cord pain and pain from a highly unstable cervical spine which has resulted in me being completely incapacitated; it’s wonderful to see it all here.

If you would not mind I would like to quote these points on my own blog crediting you for writing them so well (http://www.1inspire1.blogspot.com/).

Bless you and all the best in your life’s journey’s,

Matthew

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Comment from vidyamala
Time: March 1, 2009, 8:13 am

Hi Matthew

thanks for taking the time to write. It is of course fine for you to quote my points on your blog. Good luck with everything and be as well as possible.

Vidyamala

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Comment from Michael Mitchell
Time: March 20, 2010, 4:05 am

I would like to thank you for the simple thing of keeping me from allowing my pain from a broken and betrayed heart lead to me becoming vengeful and uncaring towards the world. Yesterday I wanted to kill myself due to all the pain I held inside, but promised myself I would wait at least a week to help sort this all out and decide on such a permanent drastic course. After reading your very short, yet truly insightful reading on pain I have come to realize that not only would it not help me to cause the woman I feel harmed by pain, but that my pain is survivable.
I won’t go into the details of it all but I thank you, truly and honestly you have blessed me and I offer you all the heartfelt appreciation I have to give.

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Comment from Vidyamala
Time: March 24, 2010, 2:46 pm

Dear Michael

I was so moved by your post and thank you for making the time to write. I hope that some of the pain has eased by the time you read this. It was such a huge moment in my life when I realised that I only experienced my pain one moment at a time. and what’s more: the present moment is not only bearable, but potentially immense and bountiful when I stopped fighting and hating my experience. So much of my suffering was being caught up in past and future in my mind (ideas of pain stretching relentlessly into the future etc). But these were just that: ideas. They were not real in terms of my actual experience which only happens one moment at a time.
Good luck to you and may you be as well and happy as possible…in all the moments.
vidyamala

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Comment from MICHELLE
Time: April 1, 2010, 3:17 pm

Dear Vidyamala.

I have had pain in my face now for 4years. I have seen ear nose and throat doctor, neurologists, pain specialist, oral surgeon and I have had acupuncture. I have had 3 mris. The pain at times has made me feel like I don’t want to live. I am married with two children and there are times that household chores feels to much. With this complaint I sometimes have a week were I don’t feel it to much and I think I’m better. I haven’t worked for three and a half years and I don’t get any incapacity benefit. My husband works hard and I feel useless because I am not bringing any money in. I had a good week last week and I applied for a job as a home carer, I have got a interview next Tuesday. I told my husband. Since then my pain has come back and I don’t know what to do. I told my husband that I was very confused about how I felt and he told my more our less to still go for the interview. But I am worried that I won’t be able to concentrate because of the pain. I really don’t know what to do. I now wish I hadn’t to him about it.
Thanks. MICHELLE.

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Comment from Vidyamala
Time: April 12, 2010, 3:16 pm

Dear Michelle

Many thanks for writing. It sounds like you have such a lot to deal with and it must be very hard. Maybe just reaching out has helped a little? In my experience I have been surprised sometimes by how little things can help…sometimes we can’t change the big things – like having a choice to live free from pain, or change our personal circumstances, but there are lots of tiny little things we can do within the structure of our lives that can make a difference. maybe you could try introducing a body scan into your daily routine just to give you time to let your body relax. Or you could do a 3 minute breathing space every hour. Just 3 minutes stopping can be amazingly calming and rejuvenating. These practices are available from wildmind. Did you go for the job interview? I hope it went well if you did.
thanks again for writing.
vidyamala

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Comment from Riana
Time: September 23, 2010, 10:31 am

Dear Vidyamala,

I’m so pleased to find this site. I’ve been struggling daily with chronic throat pain and discomfort since swallowing a piece of tough apple peel ‘the wrong way’ over six months ago. An ENT specialist could find nothing amiss, but instead prescribed a powerful drug normally used to treat neuropathic nerve pain. I felt instinctively that this was wrong. When my GP wanted to triple the dose, I came out of the surgery in tears and decided that I would tail off the drug instead and try gentler methods. I believe the problem will go in its own good time, and filling my system with toxic medication is using a sledgehammer to crack a nut. (And why won’t doctors listen to what the patient is actually saying to them?!?)

I’ve already noticed that during yoga or tai chi classes, the discomfort fades. Yet during ordinary daily activities, I’m struggling. And just this morning I realised that when I try to control the pain – that’s when it controls ME. Discovering your site with its gentle advice is a blessing. Every time I feel myself getting angry, fearful or depressed, I will remind myself to practise mindfulness instead! Thank you.

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Comment from Vidyamala
Time: October 7, 2010, 5:00 pm

Dear Riana,

many thanks for posting your message on the Wild Mind site. It sounds like you’re having a very difficult time and who would have thought that an innocent apple peel could cause so much trouble for so long. It must be very hard to come to terms with this. It sounds really good that you’re not hammering your body with medication as the first port of call. And it’s interesting that when you do yoga or tai chi the discomfort fades. I’m really pleased that you’re finding mindfulness useful and you may be interested to read my book http://www.amazon.com/Living-Well-Pain-Illness-Suffering/dp/1591797470/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1286485171&sr=8-1 or to use the guided meditations that are available here http://shop.wildmind.org/home.php?cat=38. I particularly recommend the body scan to start with as this is such a good way of relaxing the body and coming closer to your actual experience.

Thanks again for writing and I really wish you all the very best,

Vidyamala

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Comment from Tomas
Time: August 13, 2011, 6:41 pm

Dear Michelle
I recognized my inability to handle discomfort lead to a very disturbing mental civil war. However, after following your tip to dive into pain using my breath I reached a win-win situation as my emotions were acknowledged and I could get on with my purpose.

Thank you Michelle and I believe in you, Tomas

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Comment from Tomas
Time: August 13, 2011, 6:44 pm

I am also sending blessings to Vidyamala

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Comment from Vidyamala
Time: August 14, 2011, 12:35 pm

thank you Tomas!

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Comment from Brendan
Time: September 13, 2012, 8:44 pm

I have very aggressive CMT. My pain is not fleeting nor temporary. It is not a sensation I can externalise. It is neuropathic and intense. I appreciate what you’re trying to do here. I appreciate the general Buddhist stream of though, that our bodies are merely electrical conduits and that all of it is transient. It’s wise, it’s insightful, and it’s intelligent.

But I would like to point out that pontification alone can not ease some burdens. Some suffering is too real, immediate, and constant. So for anyone else for whom this meditative trick didn’t work, please go get oxy or something. Force of will can also be a force of ego

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Comment from Vidyamala
Time: September 14, 2012, 6:28 am

Hi Brendan many thanks for your comment. I agree that many of us need meds as as meditation. Meditation is complementary, not alternative. I take several different meds for my pain, which includes neuropathic pain and I know my life would be much worse without them. But with mindfulness I manage to take fewer than I would otherwise. The meds get the pain to a level where I have some sort of space in my mind and then mindfulness kicks in as a way to improve quality of life. So thanks for pointing this out as my article may have given the wrong impression that meditation is not compatible with medication. Many of us need both!

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Comment from Daniel
Time: November 5, 2012, 3:57 pm

Yep.. it’s all about MOVING TOWARDS YOUR PAIN and DISCOMFORT! :) .. and being mindful of it’s existance… to stop trying and wasting so much effort in running from it.

Thanks,

Nicely written.

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Comment from Vidyamala
Time: November 5, 2012, 4:55 pm

right on Daniel. Not easy but its the only way :) THanks.

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Comment from emma
Time: October 3, 2013, 3:10 pm

Hello,

I really just wanted to say how impressive you are Vidyamala. I saw you speak in Australia and have watched your videos. I struggle with Ankylosing Spondylitis which has caused me years of pain. Until I had a diagnosis, I thought I was going mad and really just felt so alone with the uncertainty of my situation. You have helped enormously and I really appreciate your message and willingness to manage your pain in such an insightful and positive way. Thank you.

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Comment from Sophie
Time: February 18, 2014, 9:24 pm

I suffer from diverticular disease- a bowel disease that causes constant diabolical pain, far worse at night, when I have excruciating wind. After nearly 4 years of being up every night for 4 or 5 hours I’ve had enough. I have had Fibromyalgia for over 30 years following a bout of cancer when I was 22 ( malignant melanoma ). I had to take early retirement from teaching as I was becoming increasingly unreliable, and no longer ‘fit for purpose’ as a teacher 7 years ago . I lost my partner, and also a very close friend at around this time, too. Last year I had several sudden bereavements and a period in hospital with a diverticular flareup, and was also treated for fibroids and told I have gallstones. My home has been my sanctuary but new and difficult neighbours have recently torn that from beneath me. I can’t move as equity from the sale of my flat would stop me being entitled to council housing, but with the costs of moving -solicitors fees etc. I am not in a position to buy, either. The new neighbours (3 dogs never exercised, and perpetually barking locked up in a one bedroom flat all day, and 3 children, all in a one bedroom flat) shout at me constantly-accusing me of things like ‘staring at their dogs’. My own dog -a wonderful companion who has helped keep me strong- will no longer go in the back garden without me, and since these people moved in 4 weeks ago shakes and has taken to weeping everywhere she shouldn’t. It is nearly 2 am. As usual At this time of day I am unable to sleep because of wind, finally, my GP has never given up on me, and is always supportive. At the end of last year
Following more tests I was diagnosed with clinical exhaustion, and now the new neighbours feel like the straw on the camel’s back. Last night he stopped mecoming into my flat and told me he was ‘an extremist’ whatever that means. I am too frightened to go to the police for fear of reprisal. Talks with friends about ways forward have left us all frustrated and feeling pretty much impotent, despite really scratching our heads on this one. I feel terribly alone withal this on a day to day basis. So all round pain of various sorts. I am a practising Buddhist and recently in the early hours have taken to listening to YouTube seminars and talks given by various monks and so on in a bid to find some sense in all of this, but my practise is crumbling, I am unable to attend meditation classes because of my health, andam basically suffering pain, in all it’s myriad of forms, mental and physical. I have become a tortured soul, and my GP is aware that I am at the end of my tether. Recent anti depressants upset my tum, and after trying 5 different types my GP has said enough is enough. The waiting list for NHS psychotherapy in my area is 18 months. I am always amazed by how wonderful this life is, but my own set of circumstances and my battered body mean I have become increasingly aware that my burden is too much for me. I long for someone to visit and sit with me and share a cup of tea, but long term friends have become scattered and my nearest good long term friend is now an unbelievable 180 or so miles a way. I’m sure you can hear how bound up I have become in my pain
- and if I’m honest, how appalled I am by my recent self pity and feelings of anger. Any tips, ways of managing would be marvellous. And thank you for your site – at the very least I have been occupied writing this during another ‘dark’ night, which must surely be of some help, It all feels unmangeable, and ‘me, me, me’. And I used to think I was so strong – a lesson in its self. Thank you.

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Comment from Sophie
Time: February 18, 2014, 9:34 pm

Papas rereading what I wrote I realise that instead of writing that my very upset little dog is weeing in inappropriate places as a result of being scared by the dogs next door, I seem to have typed that she is ‘weeping’. A somewhat bizarre and ultimately funny typing error!

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Comment from Sophie
Time: February 18, 2014, 9:46 pm

Sorry, me again. I am not given to using the internet to write like this – This is a bit of a ‘one off’, and just now rereading what I have written I am appalled by my circumstances – writing it down like this in one big swoop has highlighted just how beaten up I am.

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Comment from vidyamala
Time: February 23, 2014, 11:05 pm

Dear Sophie

many thanks for your message. Your circumstances sound exceptionally torrid. I really feel for you.

You are obviously savvy with the internet and you could consider doing an online course with a virtual group in mindfulness for pain and health problems. Sorry if I seem to be plugging my own thing, but actually I think it could potentially be a helpful lifeline at this time. We had a woman on the course last year who has been house bound for 10 years and it helped her a lot. You can find more info here: http://www.breathworks-mindfulness.org.uk/online-courses/group-online

Obviously I can’t think of anything practically useful to offer as you and your friends have no doubt thought of everything. Is there any mileage in talking to the council to see if the neighbours are breaking any laws?

You can download some free meditations and things at the breathworks website which may also help http://www.breathworks-mindfulness.org.uk and of course wildmind is a real gold mine. thanks again for writing and very best wishes – vidyamala

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Comment from Sophie
Time: February 26, 2014, 12:36 pm

Thank you for your reply.

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Comment from Rachel
Time: May 29, 2014, 8:08 am

I just wanted to say that all this info is really helpful and reading others opinions and experiences is almost comforting.
I have been suffering with chronic tendinitis/bursitis in my knee, well… it’s located in the pes anserinus just below the knee but my pain, aching and irritating discomfort goes all the way up my inner thigh, I also have compensatory pain and discomfort in my lower back and my ‘good’ leg as a result. It was on it’s healing path for a few weeks after my initial physio appts but just recently it has flared up again, I don’t get any relief as sitting is one of it’s main aggravators, walking and standing also hurt so needless to say I am trying to learn how to deal with the pain, anger and frustration associated with this problem. I was close to becoming a professional dancer when this problem got very bad and have had to stop all physical activity this is what I am struggling with the most right now, that idea that dance is back on the horizon then snatched away a little further again, I hate this, I feel I’m in limbo with pleasure dangled in font of me then taken again so quickly. I wasn’t intending on writing all of this but I feel my partner is finding it hard to sympathise and just remains positive all the time and expects I should do the same as my condition is apparently not permanent but it has caused me to almost grieve over the loss of my former life of dance, childrens entertainment, performing on stage…. the list goes on. Anyway, what I wanted to say is what struck me when reading your tips was my immediate mental resistance to letting go of past and future….. I’m so angry at what this is doing to me and the effect on my life, I’m going to give it my best shot and am looking into alternative/complementary treatments and therapies. I hope I can find easier days with less bitterness and resentment, perhaps this is a factor and if I let go I can start to heal.
Thanks again, and sorry to babble on… that was unexpected but perhaps for me, necessary.
thank you

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