The Buddha, in his famous teaching “The Arrow”, tells us that, “Pain is inevitable, but suffering is optional.” The tips that follow can help us accept our primary pain and reduce our secondary suffering.
How can we approach pain?
- See if you can stay in the present moment as much as you can. Whenever you notice that your mind has wandered off into the future or the past, gently bring it back. This does not mean you cannot think about the past or future, but try not to get too caught up with these thoughts.
- Investigate the process you call “pain”. You will notice it is in fact a mass of sensations, not a thing. Get to know it as actual, felt experience, rather than getting too caught up with thoughts about it. Notice how it is always changing from one sensation to another, no matter how dense and solid it may feel.
- Gently move towards the pain. See if you can soften around any resistance you may feel towards it. This is counter-intuitive, but if you try to ignore it or push it away, it will just scream louder. Use the breath to help with this.
- Kindness and gentleness are crucial. Treat pain as you would treat an injured loved one. See if you can find a tender attitude of heart.
- Once you have gently acknowledged the pain, you can then broaden out your field of awareness to look for any pleasure that is also going on in the moment. Notice experiences such as sun on the skin, being with a loved one, noticing flowers by the bed, etc. There will always be something pleasurable in your experience, no matter how subtle. Let the pain be just one of several things you are aware of in the moment.
- With this honest, tender attitude to all the shades of physical, emotional and mental experiences in the present moment, you can then choose how you respond to things. This is the point of creativity – how we respond/act in this moment sets up conditions for the next moment. You can always insert a moment of choice no matter how far down the line you have gone into distress and anguish.
- Any moment can be an opportunity for learning if we can return to the actual sensations of the present moment, rather than getting lost in thoughts and reactions. See if you can let both pain and pleasure be held within this broad perspective, neither contracting tightly against pain, nor clinging tightly to pleasure. Allow all sensations to come into being and pass away moment-by-moment.
The Buddha concluded:
“The discerning person, learned, doesn’t sense a mental feeling of pleasure or pain: This is the difference in skillfulness between the sage and the person run-of-the-mill.”