19 December 2011

"The Power of Now" and Pain Management: The Mind

Third in a series.

This post continues the theme of my previous post about how our enslavement to the mind causes suffering, increasing our pain.  Recognizing this and developing tools to mitigate its effects are essential to pain management; the spiritual life is essential to that recognition and development.

The first chapter of Eckhart Tolle's The Power of Now is titled "You are Not Your Mind."  Surely, this is not a new teaching: haven't Buddhists been saying this for centuries - that the mind is given to delusions, and is "ultimately mistaken about the way in which reality exists"; didn't Yahweh refuse to be categorized, conceptualized or named - "I am that I am" (Exodus 3:14)?  And Zen teachings speak constantly of a false mind that leads us away from Truth due to its attachment to mental and physical constructs it mistakes for reality.

These teachings are relevant for pain management because our mind is an integral part of our response to pain.  It leaps into action when physical pain arises.  There are survival benefits to this: pain may be a signal that something is awry in our bodies, bringing our attention to what needs healing; it can indicate danger, making us jerk our hand away from that hot burner.  But when pain is constant, these natural reactions become habituated and, ultimately, unhealthy as the brain searches for ways to deal with the now chronic pain that result in muscle tension, depression and anxiety.  These, in turn, wreak their own havoc on our bodies, causing more stress and poor health, and creating a vicious cycle so ingrained we do not even know it is present.  Clearly, the solution is to turn off the mind's obsessing, and, for me, that is where spirituality enters in.

A reminder: I do not know that Tolle would use the word "spirituality" in describing his teachings: he certainly refuses to use the word "religion" or even the concept of "belief." 

If I am not my mind, what am I?  If I am not my pain-filled body, what am I?  How do I cease worrying about the way I am feeling?  How do I re-cast my identity as a migraineur, as a person whose life is circumscribed by pain?  I have in my searching found the only real answer to these questions in God, the Divine, Creator, Allah, Buddha-nature...to me, it matters not what name we use for that ineffable Source of All.  And when I base my pain management on my spiritual life and in God, the coming together of physical practice, mental ease and spiritual depth results in much more than just managing of pain: it results in a better quality of life, and, I pray, makes me a better person.

I don't want this series of posts about Tolle's book to be all theory and discussion.  So in my next post I will review some posts of the past in which I have shared techniques for easing the mind's obsessing, also putting them in the context of Tolle's work.

I would love to hear from you.  Please use the Comment link below, or email me at carold.marsh@gmail.com.


  1. Christian Mathew19 December, 2011 15:10

    I have sacroiliitis and have had it for 2.5 years. I have had around 12 shots over the last two years for it. Part of them were just a regular Cortizone type injection, some were into my hip joint for bursitis and the rest were put into my ball and socket with ultrasound guidance. Not one single procedure has helped. I have begged for surgery but my condition does not warrant surgery nor would it benefit from it according to several doctors. I have two small children to take care of on a daily basis as I am a stay at home mom and it is so hard to get through the day sometimes. What I am using right now is a combination of somewhat scary narcotics and it controls it enough for me to function to care for my children. I don't know what the future holds for me as I am sure I will become intolerant to the Avinza (which is a time release morphine) and the Norco, but for now it is all I can do. I have also considered a spinal block but my doctor doesn't agree so I seem to have run out of options.
    Christian Mathew

  2. Christian: I am not a medical professional, so cannot speak to what the doctors are telling you. But I can tell that your back pain is life-altering, and my heart goes out to you. You might want to talk to your doctors about alternative therapies like acupuncture, massage, etc. And if you click on the words "pain management" in the column to the right (above), you will find several posts with specific pain management skills and tools that I have learned about and used over the years. Let me know if you need more detail about these methods.