Being Aware of Pain, Instead of Being Distracted From It
It may seem counterintuitive, but meditating into pain as opposed to trying to distract from it can be beneficial to people in pain. A former Buddist monk and current Chief Zen Officer explains that focusing on pain, but not judging it, can help pain patients feel more in control and live in the now.
It’s very counterintuitive to pay attention to your pain. Many chronic pain patients say that that’s the last thing they want to do. “Why would I want to pay more attention to my pain trying to get rid of it?” And that’s the paradox of mindfulness. Mindfulness allows us to be with our whole experience without judgment. Let’s say there’s a patient with some knee pain. It might be very acute, might be a dull pain. With mindfulness, you can explore the regions of pain in the knee. If it’s too much, you can back away and explore regions around the pain in the leg and explore the sensations around the knee with a sense of nonjudgment or with the sense of courage and kindness, self-compassion. It’s about exploring the areas without judging it as good or bad, right or wrong, and really just sensing into it a little bit. If it’s too overwhelming, we back out a little bit; we can explore the other areas of the leg or breathing. “What is it like to be breathing right now?” A patient might be movingattention away from the pain itself but still stay engaged with the experience in the body, which is really helpful over the long term. A patient can build this muscle to be able to stay engaged with experience. For the patient, when the pain has lessened, you can bring your experience back, your awareness back towards the pain and over time, to the pain itself. Over time, patients are able to actually almost embrace their pain with a sense of kindness. They’re not welcoming more of it and they’re not necessarily even accepting it completely but they’re acknowledging that it’s there because it’s there. The more they ignore it or pretend like it isn’t there or the more that they feel trapped by it, the worst the pain gets over time. So we’re engaging them into the real-life experience to be able to sense into areas of discomfort more and more over time.