Mindfulness Meditation for Pain, Anxiety, Depression, and Illness
Mindfulness Meditation for pain originates in the Buddhist Forest Monasteries Sri Lanka, Burma, Thailand, and Cambodia. Its practiced by monks, and layfolk alike. It is cultivated in a sitting posture, with eyes closed or open, but can also be practiced while walking, driving, washing the dishes, standing, talking, at any time of day, even lying down. It begins with Mindfulness of the In and Out Breath, and spreads from there.
For us “lay folk” a regular mindfulness meditation practice (note those two words– regular and practice) improves our nervous system function and psychological health. It does this by taking us out of fight or flight and into a calm state.
Medical Application of Mindfulness Meditation for Pain and Diseases
But it goes steps futher by using the mind to help us get distance from over idenitification with mental states.
Mindfulness is immensely valuable when dealing with Pain, Anxiety, Depression, even OCD….At the simplist level is an valuable tool for stress management. And our nervous system reaction to stress is a major contributing factor to all of the stress related disease, from Tension Headache and Migraine, to Gut Issues like Gastritis and IBS, even to PMS and Menstural Pain. Half of my practice is the treatment of acute and chronic pain with Acupuncture , Dry Needling, or Chinese Medicine. If you want to take ownership of your healing at the nervous system and psychological levels, I can promise you that Mindfulness will help, alot.
How Mindfulness Meditation will Help
Mindfulness is also called Awareness (sati).
Over time mindfulness leads to Vipassana, or Seeing Things As they Are, not as “we wish they were.” This has enormous implications when dealing with pain. We can use Mindfulness Meditation for pain, because our natural reaction to pain and suffering is aversion. We quite logically do not want to feel pain, b/c we associate it with worse things. This is why we pull our hand away quickly when we touch something hot, as in the oven.
The Vicious Cycle of Pain-Aversion–Tension-Fear-Anger
But, the vicious cycle with the human cerebral cortex is the degree to which we identify with our suffering, and the amount of aversion we create when in pain. And its a viscous cycle of pain-aversion-tension-creates more pain-more aversion-more tension-and now fear, what if dont get better, and now anger, at the pain, at not being able to go play golf, or, if deeper, at the drunk driver who caused you suffering. Or maybe an abuser or parent.
The Whole Catastrophe!
Vipassana practice is not cut off from life. It embraces the “whole catastrophe.” It is not about transcendence, but about deepening, sharpening, and making clearer our deepest levels of experience. by doing so life becomes more comfortable and we achieve greater levels of acceptance. so that we can act with intelligent discrimination, gently, kindly, without causing harm
A fundamental truth of living is that all experience rises and falls, no experience lasts for ever, things are always changing, in flux, as time passes and space changes.
The practice of Mindfulness gives us practical experience of this truth as sensations, feelings, memories, thoughts, and ideas pass through us, while as we cultivate an attention that clear and concise, yet soft and gentle. You are an observer not a judge.
Be An Observer, Not a Judge
As we pay attention we may notice that of the objects that arise in our field of consciousness, there are those we find attractive, those we have aversion to, and some, less common, that are neutral. As we gain equanimity, we find that attractive things have less power over us, and adverse things are less disruptive.
Goodwill and generosity are one of the bases of practice. And Goodwill begins with yourself. Unconditional Goodwill, or friendliness costs you nothing and does does only good. It your mean neighbor or a villian like Hitler were happy, truly happy, he would not have needed to hurt people. Wishing true happiness, health, and safety for yourself is healthy selfishness. Towards others, it noble.
Better, is that Goodwill puts your mind in an unlimited state. Greed, anger, fear, and delusion create tension and closure. Why you are truly happy you become open.
Identification Creates Limits
Identifying with our feelings, thoughts, and sensations creates self imposed limits. Recognizing that feelings and thoughts come and go, have their own life cycle–that its what we add to the initial feelings, fears, angers, etc–the “value added” thinking and holding and tightening and closing, that creates a lot of the discomfort and stress we experience.
The more we practice, the less we identify our thoughts as “ours”, and the more we recognize them as the epiphenomena they are, not so important, just thinking. Then our mind is free for the kind of intentional thinking we would prefer to do. Thinking is not a bad thing. It is what distinguishes us as humans. The issue is one of identification, lack of control, not being present, and much else.
Use Goodwill When Working with Negative Emotions
We can counter with limitless goodwill. You are angry at your brother who bullied you, and the repurcusions you still struggle with. Imagine yourself first, and then your brother–“My You be Happy, Healthy and Safe.” Try that on for size. It maybe be very hard at first. Pay attention to your response. If saying it just once makes you angry, then notice the anger in your body. Get out of the story and into the frank physical sensations. Notice the tension or heat or whatever may be, softly gently clearly. What does it feel like and where do you feel it. At the same time stay present with the breath. See where this takes you.
While the mind is dwelling on limitless goodwill the mind opens. Keeping the breath in mind we are sensitive.
Sensitivity requires being fully present, fully open to all nervous system information, to what you sense along with the breath. The nervous system opens up, the process of breathing feels circular, and our loads of grievances are unburdened. Now we can ask, is an action or way of being useful or necessary?
Cultivating gentleness with your self and others. As you meditate, the gentler is your breath the more solid the mind gets. Thoughts, feelings, hearings, sensations appear and disappear. The whole body is breathing in. The whole body is breathing out. The more immersed in the breath you become, the more immersed you get in the present.
This is the both the starting and ending point, immersed in the breath, in the present.
For more resources look at
Insight Meditation by Joseph Goldstein
Calming the Anxious Mind, by Jeffrey Brantly, MD
Dharma Talks and Meditations on line by Thanissero Bhikku (Ajaan Geoff) Metta Monastery, Escondido, San Diego