Just how much can we reduce the judgements and find acceptance of emotional and physical pain?
What I Think About Pain, Matters
When I feel a pain, be it emotional (as a result of my thoughts) or physical (perhaps from my chronic illness or acute bodily pain) I can choose to do two things:
- Shine the entire spotlight of attention on that pain; or
- Acknowledge it, without any judgement, and continue with what I should be doing.
If I choose the second option, I’m practising self-compassion, loving kindness and self-soothing techniques. I’m consciously making choices as to whether to define my entire happiness based on a judgement of the pain, or to observe it as it is.
Grab a Pill
When we experience dis-comfort and dis-ease, stress and dis-stress, we have very often been taught during our formative years (and subsequently by parents and peers, marketing and pharmaceutical companies) that if we need relief, we must medicate ourselves to mask the symptoms. And if we don’t use prescription or over-the-counter medication, we can easily turn to illicit drugs, alcohol and other potentially addictive behaviours.
Here is a 10-minute introductory exercise from Jon Kabbat-Zinn, the founder of Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) which he created for thousands of individuals who suffer daily emotional and physical distress. Jon has demonstrated huge success in reducing the otherwise less optimal effects.
Our senses detect, and inform us of, emotions and pain all the time. These ‘sensations’ are messengers for our thinking-conscious mind to take some form of action. These are indeed hand-delivered clues:
- If I’m hungry (an emotion), and I recognise that I’m hungry, I can choose to eat. The emotion of hunger can then be released.
- If I’m lonely, and I feel sad, I can choose to contact someone. Whether by phone, or perhaps via social media and, magically, I will feel less lonely and sad.
Returning to the source of physical or emotional discomfort, if I have a toothache (and as is my conscious habit) I can do two things:
- Focus all of my attention on the toothache – it’s going to hurt, a lot! I may not be able to concentrate on anything else; I may feel subconsciously threatened and unsafe, and as a result, I may become irritable and angry. OR
- I can recognise that I have a tooth-ache and reduce the thoughts that might associate themselves with the pain. I can recognise the event as what it is and elect to take a action (if one is available). I might make an appointment if necessary or wait and see if the pain will pass. In the meantime, I can let it go! It’s unlikely I’m going to forget I have the pain, so why focus on it?
Judge the Pain and be Damned
By practising non-judgemental acceptance of something which can or cannot be changed, we immediately open up the possibility of reducing the impact of the emotional or physical pain, be it acute or chronic. So often it’s not the event itself but what we think of it that’s the issue. This is true of all current and past events as well as the judgements we make about them.
For any Mindfulness practices to be effective we have to consider if we wish to become more ‘aware’, more ‘mindful’?
Mindfulness meditation isn’t about ‘hiding away’, or ignoring the world. In fact, it’s about being more aware and awake than we can ever recall.
In the noise of today we’ve become so reactive to stimuli and that serves us when we inadvertently step in to the path of traffic, or some other threat to our well-being. Otherwise we usually experience little genuine threat to our health and well-being.
So, if we can slow down and consider the information our senses deliver to us each moment and respond appropriately to each moment’s truth, we can be more responsive, less reactive and our physiology will also respond accordingly.
The Battlefield for a Longer Life
The millions of molecular and cellular transactions taking place each second and burning up our lifetime reserves and shortening our telomeres can be improved. (Telomeres and their length are thought to be a factor in determining the longevity of life via cellular reproduction.)
Some researches were conducted to understand the malleable determinants of cellular aging, which is critical to understanding human longevity. The researchers concluded saying “We have reviewed data linking stress arousal and oxidative stress to telomere shortness. Meditative practices appear to improve the endocrine balance toward positive arousal (high DHEA, lower cortisol) and decrease oxidative stress. Thus, meditation practices may promote mitotic cell longevity both through decreasing stress hormones and oxidative stress and increasing hormones that may protect the telomere.
Our immune system can re-boot, our energy levels can return, restful sleep and relaxation can once more become available. This in turn leads to enhanced compassion for ourselves and others, better performance and greater creativity so we can come home to ourselves and the realities of each and every moment.
And it’s free, without prescription and no animals are hurt in the testing process. No one gets rich and there are no adverse side-effects* necessary to accommodate the transition back to our unconditioned self.
*When beginning mindfulness meditation, it is wise to seek an assessment from a counsellor or other professional.
For more on this subject, contact me or consider the excellent publication Full Catastrophe Living, Revised Edition: How to cope with stress, pain and illness using mindfulness meditation by Jon Kabat-Zinn.