Back when I was meditating regularly, when I was experiencing pain, even fairly intense pain, I found that if I concentrated upon the pain I was able to better tolerate it. When I really tried to focus upon the pain itself, to really feel where it was located and how it felt, it turned out that in any given moment, the pain itself wasn’t so bad. It was the ongoing nature of the pain, the sense that the pain was present and was going to continue to be present for who knows how long, that made bearing the pain difficult. I don’t know if this is a common experience for those who meditate or not (or if I’m the only one strange enough to look at pain as a potential focus for mindfulness meditation), but it was certainly my experience.
This came to mind recently, as I’ve been thinking about mindfulness and pain in a somewhat different context. Yesterday morning, getting out of the shower, I reached for my towel. Somehow in the process of grabbing my towel, I managed to do something unpleasant to the muscles around my neck. As long as I keep my neck vertical and still, everything is good. Bend my neck down or up, or twist my neck side to side, and it hurts. The pain can be anything from a gentle stretching ache to a sharp shooting pain. The obvious answer is to keep my neck fairly still. Which is where my musings on mindfulness and pain come in.
I am being forced to be mindful about how I hold my neck because otherwise I experience pain. Overall, I am not necessarily finding this a particularly spiritually satisfying form of mindfulness, but it is pushing me to think back to other forms. When it first happened, I had high hopes. After all, I’d profitably combined mindfulness and pain before, perhaps it would work well, this way also.
Not so much. Part of the issue, I suspect, is that mindfulness is largely about being mindful for it’s own sake, rather than for the sake of avoiding pain. There seems to be something a little odd about seeking mindfulness in order to limit pain. The other part of the issue is that I haven’t been meditating consistently recently. I think knitting has largely taken the place of the meditation in my life, and while it fulfills many of the same functions (relaxation, clarity of mind, peace of spirit), it does not provide the sharpness of mental focus that mindfulness meditation provided me.
I’m beginning to think (continuing to think) that I need to make time in my life for meditation again. The trick, as with all of life, is doing it.