About Being with Pain

Good day, friends!
Here’s another something from my correspondence recently. This one is a response to someone wrestling with a very difficult experience of pain in the body. They are new to practice and asked about practicing with the pain. Here is what I said….
Dear —–,
Thank you so much for reaching out. Wow, I’m so sorry. That sounds really, really difficult.
This is a tough one. Being with pain, especially intense, debilitating pain like you’re experiencing, is one of the most difficult practices I know. I have some experience with this (though not nearly so bad as yours, it sounds like), and here are the things I’ve found that have been helpful…
First and foremost, as you said, we need to get out of our heads. The pain is bad enough without some awful story attached to the pain. You know how that works, I’m betting: there is what is actually happening, then there is all the stuff we make up about what is happening (“It’s going to be like this forever…”, “Why is this happening to me…” or whatever), and it’s the stuff we make up–the stories–that turn pain into misery. So I would recommend that you work to recognize when you are putting some story, some meaning on your experience. Whenever you see that you are doing that, drop that conversation in your mind as best you can and turn your attention to something that is present, like your breath, body sensations, and so on. In some ways the best place to put your attention is simply on the pain. The pain is in the present moment, and there is a doorway through the pain to the human who is experiencing it, and that human needs your attention. This is going to be really difficult to do, however, I would imagine, because we’ve all been conditioned to avoid pain in every way we can, but if you can let go of the tendency to abandon your experience for a story, at least you’ll avoid the unnecessary suffering that is likely getting put on top of the pain.
Without the conditioned stories the pain is just pain. Pain can be extremely difficult to be with, but it’s better to be with it than not. See if you can hold yourself in love while you experience the pain. It’s kind of like you are with a child who is in pain. You can’t take the pain away from her, but you can love her as she goes through it. This is something we can do for ourselves. That makes a tremendous difference, in my experience. This will also be difficult because the pull will likely be to run away from the pain, as I said. Keep coming back to the love, though, over and over again.
It seems unrealistic and also unhelpful to me to try and be in a place of gratitude with this or to be looking for things you can learn. It seems unkind to me to ask yourself to be grateful for something so awful. To be grateful in general for life and for all the goodness in your life, yes, but right now that seems like a lot to ask. Instead, I’d recommend that you allow yourself to feel whatever you feel about this. If you feel angry, frustrated, depressed, or any other thing–and these are all natural things to feel, and perfectly understandable–allow yourself to feel these things. Don’t identify with the feelings, in the sense of going into the story that will be attached to them, but hold the feelings, whatever they may be, in loving awareness just as I hope you’ll do with the pain.
I really hope the specialist can help you out and that you can figure out what’s going on. I’m really sorry you’re going through this right now. If there’s any way I can help please don’t hesitate to ask.
In peace,
David

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