12 September 2010

Befriending Pain



Befriending Pain


My dear friend, David Hilfiker, once said to me - referring to his clinical depression, "I think I need to learn how to make friends with it." 

Stephen and Ondrea Levine, in their book, "Who Dies?" explain and explore the practice of a close examination of physical pain.

I have come to define befriending my pain as having two parts: gentle examination of its physical presence, and changing my relationship to it away from regarding it as the enemy.

I know it seems counter-intuitive - it certainly did when I first encountered the idea five or six years ago.  Yet I have found that being willing to let go of expectations and reactions in order to openly-heartedly explore newness has often led to spiritual and emotional healing.  In this and the next few posts, I'll share some of that exploration, even continue it, and welcome thoughts and ideas from readers of this blog (click on the Comments box, below, or email me at carold.marsh@gmail.com).

So, first of all, the practice of exploring physical pain.  (Nota bene: Emotional pain also benefits from this sort of exploration, and will be the subject of a future post).  This is a practice that I have developed over the years: I do not pretend to be an expert in pain management, I am simply sharing something that works for me.

  • First:  Take three slow, deep breaths, focusing on some particular aspect of the breath - the moment inhalation begins, or the moment of rest between breaths.
  • And then: Take ten regular breaths, continuing your focus.
  • And then: While still focusing on your breathing, gently stretch in a way that is comfortable for you.  If you want to and can stand up, fine.  If you want to and can stretch from your sitting or prone position, fine.  It helps to progress either from toes to head, or head to toes - that way, you tend to be attentive to most of the major muscle groups.  This is not about getting in shape - this is about relaxing physically as preparation for paying deep attention to one aspect of your physical reality: pain.
  • And then: three more slow, deep breaths.
  • And then: Allow your consciousness to approach the area of pain.  The less intellectual you are about this, the better; simple awareness is best for this practice.
  • And then: With quiet mind, note how the pain feels.  Note the words that come up: stabbing, throbbing, gripping, waves, vice-like, etc.  No judgement, no editorializing: simply note the words that float up into your consciousness. 
  • And then: Note whether or not the feelings vary.  For example, migraine pain never stays in one place or has only one, constant aspect: it recedes and then throbs forward again; it bounces around the head; it might be stabbing one moment and gentler the next.
  • And then: Having examined the pain, imagine creating space around it, a gentle, cushioning space.  It might help to help bathe the pain with light, or imagine a soft cloud pervading it, or imagine yourself breathing gently into it, loosening it.  If you like visualization, you can try seeing the pain as a knot that you loosen, or as a dry, hard bit of soil that you water.
  • And then: Just stay with that image for as long as feels good to you.
  • To finish: Three slow, deep breaths as you come back to more consciousness of the world around you; more gentle stretches; move gently and slowly into your next activity or purpose.
In the next post, I'll write about the benefits of this practice, and begin to explore more the concept of befriending pain.

I'd love to hear from you.  Click on the Comment box below, or email me at carold.marsh@gmail.com.

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