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Mindfulness Helps You Sit With Pain (Emotional and Physical)

Posted Oct 03 2012 3:56pm

It’s the second week of the mindfulness-based stress reduction program and some people are wondering why on earth I am asking them to do the body scan every day (a formal mindfulness exercise that asks people to systematically bring attention to their body from head to toe).  All kinds of comments are made after we do it at the beginning of class. On one hand, people say things like “It’s kind of boring,” “My mind wanders all over the place,” “The more I do it the less attention I pay to it (and I don’t like the recording).” On the other hand, people indicate “It’s really relaxing,” “I’ve noticed how it’s changed the way I relate to other things in my life,” “I’m able to release the tension in my body,” and “I am more able to cope with my pain.”

Our lives are filled with things that we like and things that we don’t like.  We feel pain (both emotional and physical) and we feel joy. Mindfulness teaches us to treat all our experiences with equal care and compassion and kindness.  Meeting life head-on in each moment teaches us that we can be with whatever is present without reacting. And if reacting is happening, we notice that with curiosity and openness.

This ability to sit in our human-ness is accentuated through the practice of mindfulness.  Research indicates it makes us more compassionate and empathetic towards our emotional discomforts.  It can also help us perceive physical pain as less debilitating, with recent research indicating that it can reduce the unpleasantness of physical pain by 22% . 

It’s helpful to do practices like the body scan, because the things you notice are metaphors for the rest of your life.  You’ll notice boredom, impatience, tension, judgment, sorrow, as well as joy, contentment, and peace. They weren’t “caused” by the body scan.  They are a product of your human-ness and your life. The mindfulness practice lets you sit in the middle of the “full catastrophe” and have an opportunity to relate to it without reacting.  When something difficult is present, one of my meditation teachers suggested saying  “oh, so that’s what wants to be here right now.”  I always have found that very helpful. When something is pleasant, enjoy it.  Don’t resist or cling to any of it. .

We all sit in the middle of pain from time to time, mindfulness helps us do it with more grace.   Do you need a better reason to practice? Go to the audio/video links on this blog if you need help getting started.  You can have a kinder, gentler, less painful life in no time.

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