Thursday, April 22, 2010

Pain and breathing

There was a time when it seemed everything bothered me...It was very easy to let traffic or a stray comment or look from someone that I perceived as negative get to me. When I was hurt, I was REALLY hurt. Pain in and of itself exists and it is up to me how I process it. What do we do with pain as it comes into our lives in so many ways? We can let it dictate what we do and who we are or we can step back and breathe. Stepping back really looking at my part in a painful situation and evaluating the true basis of the pain helps immeasurably.

As somebody once said, "Pain is inevitable. Suffering is optional." Pain and suffering are not the same thing. Pain is a physical sensation; suffering is how we choose to experience it. Bhikkhu Bodhi wrote,

"The Buddha compares being afflicted with bodily pain to being struck by an arrow. Adding mental pain (aversion, displeasure, depression, or self-pity) to physical pain is like being hit by a second arrow. The wise person stops with the first arrow."

So you see, you don't have to run any painful situation over and over in your head. What does that do? It leads to more suffering. It makes sense to try and assess the true nature of the painful situation, see my part in it and evaluate what I can do about it.

I really do think the people of Alcoholics Anonymous have it right when they ask for:

The serenity to accept the things I cannot change
the courage to change the things I can
and the wisdom to know the difference.

Breathing, stepping back, making a conscious effort to process pain and not add to your suffering can really make a difference. Of course that doesn't mean we are not allowed to feel pain. It's just what do we do with the pain once it is present in our lives. And believe you me the cold hard truth is pain will always be present in our lives so it is a good thing to learn to deal with it.

Wildmind Buddhist Mediation has some very good tips on dealing with pain the Buddhist way:

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.


  1. Thank you, what great information you have shared. I like the concrete examples of what a person can do to improve their perception of what is unfolding :)

  2. Thank you! I'm so happy you could get something positive out of it!



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