Several months ago Bill injured his back.  Since then he has suffered from excruciating pain. He has sciatica - shooting, burning pain in his buttocks and down his left leg. There is severe nerve pain that feels like a toothache in his lower body. He can hardly sit in a chair without squirming in discomfort, and he can barely sit long enough to drive his car anywhere. Occasionally, he will have horrendous back spasms that send him reeling into the depths of agony. He is almost afraid to move, because it might set off another spasm. He hates and fears the pain. On top of all this, his wife and children do not understand. They are resentful that he can't do the things he once did, such as go on weekend recreational outings. He sees the demeaning, disappointed looks they give him, which only adds to his misery. It is clear that Bill has all the SEAT components of suffering. There is the Sensation of pain in his back and lower body. There are the Emotions of fear that the pain will strike unexpectedly, anger and helplessness toward the pain, frustration at not being able to do the things he once did, and sadness and depression at his sorry state of affairs. He is afraid of what will happen in the future. Will he be able to continue working?  Will his wife leave him? The pain captures his Attention so that he cannot deal with life effectively. Finally, he has the Thoughts that he is an invalid, that life is dismal and bleak, that his loved ones resent him, and he is immersed in a cesspool of self-pity. What can Bill do? In previous lessons we have discussed the common psychological techniques for managing pain. In the next few lessons we will look into some useful variations on these techniques.  All these variations involve "getting physical" with pain. Let's start by seeing what Bill can do with the Thought component of the SEAT of pain and suffering. When in pain, people often focus on their distress, telling themselves how horrible their pain is, and what a terrible situation they are in. Also, people frequently obsess over what might happen in the future, creating dismal images and scenarios in their mind. This is understandable, but unfortunately it merely adds to suffering. Much of the time the thought of what might happen in the future is much worse than the actuality. Thoughts can stoke our anger and fear, and keep us in turmoil. This is especially true if we focus on these distressing thoughts, which makes them stronger and keeps them in the forefront of the mind. There are many ways to deal with the problem of thought when it adds to our suffering. In previous letters we have talked about meditation, and how it can create some distance between our thoughts and our selves. People often identify with their thoughts, thinking that the little voice in their head is THEM.  Fortunately, YOU are much more than that little voice. Thoughts come and go, sometimes happy and sometimes sad. YOU are here, regardless of the contents of your thoughts. Meditation, in which we sit and relax, and watch our thoughts float by like clouds in the sky, without our help or resistance, helps develop a living understanding that the little voice is not you. Disengaging from thoughts in this way helps us see that thoughts are just thoughts, and if we don't pay much attention to them, they change. They lose their power to capture our attention and our personal identity, and to enslave us. Many people have difficulty doing meditation - they simply can't sit still for long. If this is true for you, then there is an alternate form of meditation you might try called walking meditation. In walking meditation you take a nice slow stroll, relaxing and paying attention to the feelings in your body, fully grounded in the here and now. Bring your awareness to any muscle tension you might have. Feel your body as you take each step. Pay attention to your breathing, and to the rhythm of your steps.  That is, get physical! Stay in the present moment, rooted in the feelings of your body. When you find yourself thinking, simply note that you are thinking, and gently return your attention to the physical here and now. Turn your attention back to the feelings in your body, without trying to fight your thoughts or stop them.  The purpose of this meditation is to come to the present, and be aware of the feelings in your body and your thoughts, and LET THEM BE, just as they are. Observe your thoughts passing and changing. You are the observer of these thoughts and feelings - you are not them. You are you, whether your thoughts are happy or sad. Your true nature is not merely thought. If you continue with this practice once or twice a day, you will find that in time your thoughts will not engage you so much, and you will not become wrapped up in them or identified with them.  Eventually you will notice that you may be thinking angry or fearful or depressed thoughts, and you will recognize that you are simply thinking angry or fearful or depressed thoughts - that's all. You can choose to turn your attention to other things, without fighting your thoughts or being identified with them.  Your thoughts will come and go, and you can choose to pay attention to them or not. You can simply acknowledge the thoughts that contribute to your suffering, and then let them go. ================================================= How to Catch Monkeys This is an ancient teaching story that can be used as a metaphor for our battle with pain and suffering. All too often, pursuing things we think we want leads to excessive stress, mental anguish, and physical pain. Then, trying to escape from the pain, and trying to hold on to what feels good, leads to even more suffering. How do we handle this? Read on to see what monkeys do, and what you should avoid. "Once upon a time there was a monkey who was very fond of cherries. One day he saw a delicious looking cherry, and came down from his tree to get it. But the fruit turned out to be in a clear glass bottle. After some experimentation, the monkey found that he could get hold of the cherry by putting his hand into the bottle by way of the neck. As soon as he had done so, he closed his hand over the cherry, but then he found that he could not withdraw his fist holding the cherry, because it was larger than the internal dimension of the neck. Now all this was deliberate, because the cherry in the bottle was a trap laid by a monkey hunter who knew how monkeys think. The hunter, hearing the monkey's whimperings, came along and the monkey tried to run away. But because his hand was, as he thought, stuck in the bottle, he could not move fast enough to escape. But, as he thought, he still had hold of the cherry.  The hunter picked him up. A moment later he tapped the monkey sharply on the elbow, making him suddenly relax his hold on the fruit. The monkey was free, but he was captured. The hunter had used the cherry and the bottle, but he still had them."

Getting Physical with Pain - Part One

© 2016 by Dr. Ken Pfeiffer