09 January 2012

"The Power of Now" and Pain Management: Tools (2)

Fifth in a series.

Eckhart Tolle says that enlightenment is "your natural state of felt oneness with Being.

"It is a state if connectedness with something immeasurable and indestructible, something that, almost paradoxically, is essentially you and yet is much greater than you." (The Power of Now, p. 12)

He goes on to say that it is the inability to feel this connection that creates the illusion of separation from the world around us, from the people around us, from God.  Today's post is about how this concept comes together with pain management.

One of the paradoxes of pain management is that, instead of fleeing from or anesthetizing the pain, our best practice is to be aware of it -- to embrace it, as it were.  Several years ago I read a book by Stephen and Ondrea Levine entitled, Who Dies?, in which they explain that, when we turn toward the pain, paying attention to it and then flooding it with awareness, we take away its power over us.  For me, it  seems to recede, become less significant; it loses that monolithic presence that looms over me and affects all I do.

There is only one way to test this theory: try it.  I want to share with you some techniques I have developed over the years of nearly constant migraine pain, in the hope that they will help you.

1. Deep relaxation
I have posted about this practice before, in a discussion about inhabiting our bodies.  For now, I'll just summarize by saying that deep relaxation is essential for my meditation and pain management practices.  Deep relaxation methods include using the breath, focusing on major muscle groups, and practicing body awareness and visualization.  There are many websites that teach deep relaxation.  Here are a few:
* Inner Health Studio
* Mayo Clinic
* University of Maryland

A wonderful aspect of deep relaxation is that, after daily practice, it becomes so much a way of life that you don't need basic tools any more: your body simply learns to relax into pain and other unpleasant stimuli.  You find yourself taking a deep breath during confrontation or stress or pain without ever having been aware that you decided to go into deep relaxation. 

Just don't forget to breathe, deeply, slowly, throughout your practice.

2. Attend to the pain
Instead of running away from your pain, turn toward it.  Name how it feels -- throbbing, icy, stabbing, pressure, fiery -- and then pay attention to how it changes.  It can be helpful to know that pain does not remain a block of heavy and overwhelming feeling: it dances, it moves, it changes aspect.  Following and naming it -- a habit that, admittedly, takes some discipline at first -- floods your pain with your awareness.  Naming it takes some of the fear out of it.

3. Flood the pain
If you like and derive benefit from visualization, use your imagination: imagine a healing light, perhaps a soothing color, flooding the pain; picture a balmy summer breeze wafting through and dissipating it; visualize yourself by the ocean or in a sun-lit meadow.

4. Stay with it for a while
Remain in that calm state for a while.  Fall asleep.  Meditate.  When you first begin, you will find that any movement or conversation forces you immediately out of your relaxed state.  But as you practice, you will find that you are better able to maintain it even when moving on to the next activity.

After you have practised daily for a while, you will find that your body learns a new way of being, that you are able to call up the relaxation response without trouble, and even that it is readily available and already in gear before you consciously reach for it.  It goes back to the quote that begins this post, doesn't it?  Connecting with our pain connects us with our bodies.  The resulting calm connects us with our spirits, and thus with God, or Being.

May you find your state of Being through your pain.

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

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