The Power of Pain

Woman holding her head in pain
The Power of Pain

Pain often pulls at us more intensely than the breath or other body sensations. Rather than trying to ignore it and hold fiercely to a different object of meditation, we might have a more fruitful meditation session if we tune into that pain.

The peril here is trying to train the mind to focus where you set it. If you want to train that puppy mind to sit and stay, but you tell it to sit, then ignore it when it walks out of the room, you have only trained yourself in the art of aggravation. The puppy knows your intention is meaningless. In meditation, exert gently. Train the mind to return to the place you put it with a firm nudge, not a slap or a smack.

Ways to Focus on Pain

Different types of awareness work better with different types of pain. When I have a minor injury that produces a sharp pain, I focus on that painful spot with a single focus that is one-dimensional in width, but infinite in depth. For example, a few months ago, I cut one of my toenails too short. I  took a few days off from running to make sure the wound healed. Then, I bandaged it and went on a run. Even though I wasn’t damaging the toe further, every once in a while, the toe sent out a little jolt. That ouch would have been easy to ignore, but I chose that as my object of meditation.

I noted the sharpness and heat, not thinking about it, but letting my consciousness soak deeply into that experience. This might sound masochistic, but it was the perfect object of meditation. Because pain grabs your attention, it doesn’t require much effort to hold your focus.

By relaxing around this unpleasant sensation, I was able to continue running and even feel a fondness for my poor toe I had unintentionally maimed.

That single point of pain focused my mind. I noted it arising and passing. This allowed me to maintain my running form, not limp, and avoid injuring another part of my body by favoring that toe.

Broader or free-floating awareness works better with the dull ache or overall body pain of fatigued muscles as well as the mental fatigue that comes with endurance sports. Experiment with different types of focus. It keeps the practice fresh and helps you take control of your meditation experience.

Dive deep into it with curiosity. Open up to whatever changes might occur in the pain place. Let those changes become your guide. But please do not exercise if it will cause damage. While a minor injury may be an inconvenience and an opportunity, pain can also signal a time to rest or see a medical professional. Take care of yourself and live to practice mindful movement another day.

I have included more than twenty “Your Turn” exercises in the book Make Every Move a Meditation.

This excerpt is from Make Every Move a Meditation by Nita Sweeney. Buy the paperback, ebook, or audiobook now at Amazon or Mango Publishing Group.