Pain comes to us all at various times. It is a useful tool for letting us know that something isn’t right and that we should take action. That is, when it’s working properly. A good number of my new patients come to see me at a point when pain has become an ever present spectre that haunts their every action and limits them from living life to the fullest. Their protective pain mechanisms have gone wrong. Their pain itself has become an enemy to wellbeing.
To help break this cycle, it can be useful to understand a little about how pain works.
Your brain is constantly monitoring your internal and external environments, looking out for dangers to avoid, or reassurance that all is well. Neurologically speaking, pain is produced by the brain when the credible evidence of danger related to the body predominates over the reassuring evidence of safety related to the body.
This neurological evidence is very wide ranging and fits into 7 broad categories:
things you hear, see, smell, taste or touch;
things you do;
things you say;
things you think and believe;
places you go;
people in your life;
things happening in your body.
When in chronic pain it can helpful to look at these 7 areas, to try to understand what danger and safety messages might be being processed.
A mindfulness of discomfort meditation can help us look at what is happening in the body right at this moment at and around, the site of pain. Bringing this to the fore may help quiet other danger messages, and paradoxically, by truly feeling your pain and not fighting it, you may lessen your suffering.
Here is how we do it, typically spending about 10 seconds on each step, at least initially:
Notice where the discomfort or pain feels most intense right now; paying deep attention to it - looking with curiosity and compassion at the character, shape, texture, density or even colour as you feel it.
Visualise your breath going gently into the area. Looking for a ‘breathingness’ of subtle expansion and relaxation.
Setting aside the pain or discomfort for a moment, become aware of the area around it and see if you can open it up, and unpack it a little. Teasing it apart and letting it soften and expand.
Though the feeling may still be unpleasant, sit with it and be aware of the experience of it for a few moments - just allowing it to be there, as it is, at this moment.