The first of our guest blog posts!
Mindfulness Meditation and Pain
By none other than our awesome, local mindfulness teacher, Mike Kewley.
Please see Mike's website, www.myfreemind.org for more information about his fantastic work.
How to be Hit by an Arrow
By Mike Kewley
Yes it hurts, but the trick is not minding that it hurts. - Peter O'toole as Lawrence of Arabia.
How we relate to being ill is a good example of the way we fight life when it suddenly stops doing what we want it to do. We struggle with illness simply because it’s something we would never choose to experience.
Being consciously ill – which means to fully acknowledge how we’re feeling – is always counterintuitive because we're afraid of the consequences of letting go into pain and discomfort.
Observing what happens if we do let go into our moment to moment experience, with eyes wide open, is the goal of Mindfulness practice. It is the adventure of letting go, on purpose, into this incredible ride we call life, regardless it's content.
This is why Mindfulness is a practice for grown-ups. It’s not about chasing special feelings, or expanded states of consciousness, but about meeting your life as it is, because your life is what you always return to.
We don’t have to like our experience, but we do have to accept it simply because it’s already here and no amount of imagination can make it disappear. Indeed trying to avoid what is already happening is a kind of madness. It seems like it just might work but it doesn't. The struggle simply adds extra weight to our suffering.
Buddhism illustrates the way in which we exacerbate our own suffering with the story of the second arrow:
We're walking along peacefully when we're suddenly hit by a poisonous arrow. We now need to pay attention to it, pull it out and live. But there is a second arrow ready to fly: our reaction to it.
“Who fired it? Why me? I knew this would happen! I’m really angry now, this wouldn’t have happened if…”
Instead of responding with clarity and focus to the first arrow, we become embroiled in the drama of our own reactivity. In fact the story tells us that the second arrow – the one we shoot ourselves with – is more poisonous that the first.
So the next time you’re experiencing physical discomfort, try the following exercise to ease your reaction to it. The point of the exercise is to see what happens if we gently allow ourselves to feel, know and allow uncomfortable sensations, rather than block them off and shut them out.
It works by really allowing ourselves to focus on the shifting real-time sensations of discomfort (the first arrow) rather than the stories about them playing in our head (the second arrow).
Through this simple explorative practice intense sensations can soften, dissipate and even disappear.
So sit comfortably, drop your awareness into the body and experiment with asking the following questions, listening to your body for answers. Close your eyes whilst focussing single pointedly on the sensations and see what you can discover.
Do it with an open mind, no expectations and a sense of play. Spend a few minutes with each question, before moving onto the next one:
- Where is the pain right now?
- Does it have a colour?
- What does it feel like? (pressure? throbbing? tingling?)
- Does it move or is it still?
- Is it solid like concrete or fluid like water?
- Can you find the edges?
- Can you find space or distance around it? If so can you stay with the sensations of space or distance?
- Is the sensation constant? or does it come and go, increase and decrease?
- Can you find somewhere in the body that feels good or relaxed? If so can you switch attention between the discomfort and any pleasant or neutral sensations?
- Is the pain or discomfort something you are actively doing, or is it something the body is doing all by itself?
- Does it have a centre or a source?
- What happens when you direct an attitude of kindness towards the discomfort? (here we can say ‘May you (sensation) be happy, healthy and well’).
- What happens when we direct the breath into it, flooding the sensation with breath?
- What happens when we say “Yes” to it and allow it to be here, as life?
- Can you hold the present moment, and all sensation, in awareness, allowing it move, flow and be felt, without interfering?
- Can you be with this moment, just as it is?
By exploring our sensations with mindfulness, awareness and kindness we can transform the ways in which we experience ourselves, others and life in general. We become skilled at allowing the many flavours of the human experience – good, bad and ugly - to arise and fall within us, without becoming entangled or overwhelmed by them, like waves moving across the ocean.
The waves come and go, the ocean remains.