A life dedicated to service...

Week 32: Pain by any other name

It’s one thing to hope that the next test, consult, or treatment will make it go away — yet another to lament the unfairness of it all, the loneliness of affliction, the blame for having brought this on yourself. But there it is. Pain, discomfort, unpleasantness, suffering: call it what you want, it sucks.

As I grow older, my body faces new ‘challenges’ every day. Heart attack, arthritis, fatigue, forgetfulness, and — this just in! — Monoclonal BCell Lymphocytosis, all beating a path to my door. I brush them off with smart-alecky remarks about body parts having reached their sell-by date, all warranties having long expired.

And then I stop and pause. Feel the next breath, and the one after that. Recall advice from long ago, so simple yet easily forgotten: “Welcome everything!” And the poets’ reminder to bid sensations to enter our awareness, not judging them as good or bad, fair or unjust, “Come, enter, sit. Have wine and bread.” As if encountering a stranger along the way: face contorted, eyes in agony, asking for assistance.

How could I refuse? In that moment the ego shrinks and compassion arises. How may I be of assistance? Something shifts profoundly as we direct attention from the concept of being-in-pain to the sensation-as-such. From “I hate getting old” to “What’s the sensation in my knee right now; if it had a colour, what would it be; how is it: warm, or cold, or in between?” Sensing, feeling, moment by moment. Observing impermanence in action.

Bhikkhu Bhodi, the American-born Sri Lankan-ordained monk, writes that “it is useful to recognize the distinction between physical pain and the mental reaction to it. Although body and mind are closely intertwined, the mind does not have to share the same fate as the body. When the body feels pain, the mind can stand back from it. Instead of allowing itself to be dragged down, the mind can simply observe the pain. Indeed, the mind can even turn the pain around and transform it into a means of inner growth.

“The Buddha compares being afflicted with bodily pain to being struck by an arrow. Adding mental pain (aversion, displeasure, depression, or self-pity) to physical pain is like being hit by a second arrow. The wise person stops with the first arrow. Simply by calling the pain by its true name, one can keep it from extending beyond the physical, and thereby stop it from inflicting deep and penetrating wounds upon the spirit.” Read more . . . 

image: Tricycle Magazine


About the Author
Peter lives in Victoria, BC, where he volunteers in health-care. teaches mindfulness meditation, and offers end-of-life care.
  1. lav Reply

    Damn the torpedoes. Sending peace and healing thoughts xo

  2. Ana Reply

    Thinking of you, Tante. Sending love, light and healing wishes. XO

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