Mindfulness is a set of techniques based on the observation of thoughts and feelings and body sensations without judgment, and on enhancing your conscious awareness of your internal experience. Many of these techniques have been developed over the years from Theraveda and Mahayana Buddhism, which are nonreligious traditions founded around 500 BC. The primary focus is on insight, or vipassana. This type of meditation does not seek to eliminate pain or stress, but rather to guide the individual to use intentional, focused, and relaxed awareness to help achieve nonjudgmental self-acceptance in the present moment. Like tuning an instrument, daily mindfulness practice enriches the brain’s neuronal structures, enhances connections, and affects neurotransmitter levels by decreasing cortisol and epinephrine (stimulation) and increasing serotonin and GABA (relaxation). In other words, developing a consistent practice of mindfulness can change the brain.
After years of suffering from chronic pain, you can become attached to it because your pain seems grounding. It is solid and familiar. Attachment to thoughts or outcomes and desiring a different physical state, that is, living without chronic pain, are the cornerstones upon which you expand your suffering. The freedom that mindfulness can offer is that you can change your relationship with your pain and learn to detach from the feelings and physical sensations associated with chronic pain. Mindfulness practice encourages you to be in the moment without becoming consumed or attached to it.
Mindfulness practice encourages you to be in the moment without becoming consumed or attached to it. The techniques utilize gentleness toward yourself. I encourage you to be open-hearted to new possibilities that will come from just following your breath. I urge you to let go of the disdain and bitterness you may feel about your pain as you begin to meditate and simply notice what comes up in each moment, changing with each breath that you take.
It will help to work with a teacher or to join a meditation group. Sitting with your pain takes courage, actually more courage than fighting against it. Mindfulness is full of paradoxes; allow it to open you, and open to it. By all means, be kind and loving toward yourself as you work with your breath. There is no “right way” to do this and no goal to achieve.
It is helpful to utilize humor and softness as you attempt to learn to meditate. A good analogy is that this is like training a puppy. The puppy is terribly cute, so when it wanders from the paper, you gently shoo it back—no harsh words for the puppy or for yourself. Just use gentle energy to remind yourself to focus on the breath, and the next breath, and the next after that.
Try not to focus on an outcome; rather, be present for the process.
One study found that after three months of daily meditation, those who meditated experienced less pain, improved attention, enhanced well-being, and improved their quality of life. Not too shabby for a process intrinsic in your body, that is, the breath. This breath is available for you any time you like, to work with for free.
This blog post is an excerpt from A Day Without Pain (Revised) by Mel Pohl, MD, FASAM; Published by Central Recovery Press (CRP).