One of the best pain management tools I have is based upon the concept of No-Self, about which Diane Mariechild writes in today's reflection (in Open Mind -- Womens' Daily Inspirations for Becoming Mindful). By the way, if you are new to this blog, you might like to know that I am devoting the posts of 2013 to the Diane Mariechid book noted above. You can get it on Amazon if you'd like to join us: click here.
The concept of No-Self, or attana, is Buddhist, and I have also learned a lot about it from Eckhart Tolle's writings about Presence and about the ego. I have posted about this before: here and here.
It's a complicated thing, is the concept of No-Self, and I am not going to try and explain it in one post, which is why I provide the links above. But Mariechild's way of writing about No-Self lends itself easily to my pain management practice and understanding so I'll focus on reflection about her words.
I am an inveterate list maker, partly because I just am and partly because when I am in pain it's impossible to remember theory or argument: I just want relief. An easily memorized list is something that comes to mind despite pain, especially if I have practiced regularly as part of my daily meditation.
So here is the step-by-step list (with my own embellishments) for how the idea of No-Self enhances pain management as I have gleaned it from Mariechild's reflection for today, May 7:
1. Stop thinking about the pain -- i.e., analyzing it and its effects on you, worrying about, becoming angry about, agonizing over it.
2. Pay attention to how the pain feels in your body. Examine it without judgment or emotional reaction. Notice that the pain changes the longer you attend to it, and so do the words you use to describe it. It may throb for a while then subside to a faint pulsing only to come back as a dull ache.
3. Become aware of your reactions to this pain. Again, do this without judgment or emotions: simply note that when the pain is stabbing, you feel a spike of fear; when the pain pulses, you feel annoyed.
4. Realize that pain is not an unchanging and solid entity in your body. It is not a thing to be battled: it is a rather ephemeral and boundary-less sensation, coming and going, ebbing and flowing.
Realizing that your pain is not a solid entity with its own existence correlates to No-Self because that concept teaches us that we ourselves are not solid, not "real" in the way our minds would have us believe. It sounds heretical to the Western mind, yet it is very freeing to be released from all the shoulds and blaming and repetitive nonsense of the tapes that play in our minds.
Mariechild explains that we cease creating stories around the Self when we realize that nothing is solid and unchanging. For managing our pain, being able to release our stories about it frees up precious energy and stamina for management and, ultimately, significant change in how we live with our pain. And that takes the imprisonment out of pain, starting us on the journey to freedom.
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Carol D. Marsh
- With a Master of Fine Arts in Creative Nonfiction degree (Goucher College, August 2014), I am looking at a new phase in my life. From 1992 to 2009, I served as Founding Executive Director of Miriam's House, a residence for homeless women living with AIDS. I left this position when Chronic Migraine Disease overtook my ability to do my job. Now I hope that a writing career will both accommodate the migraines and give me a creative, productive outlet. And soon, September 4, I will launch my Inkshares author page in a bid to hit the 1,000 pre-order goal in 90 days. The book I want to publish is "Nowhere Else I Want to Be," a memoir of ten of my years at Miriam's House.