2. Physical Pain

Physical Pain "Management"

While I sit here trying to think of a nifty illustration to get into this section, my daughter's adorable 12-week-old kitten is climbing around on me. He has been working his way up and down the back of my chair and going back and forth across my shoulders. As he works his way down to my legs and makes an attempt for the floor he slips and tries to catch himself on my bare leg.  The two outside claws on one front paw dig efficiently into my skin as he drops. My reaction was not pretty. The little monster drew blood.

We all know what pain is. We all know the different types of pain. There is no need to dwell on the science of pain. What we need to be concerned with is our attitude towards pain.

Physical pain is a good thing, we need pain. Any good captain wants to be informed when something goes wrong with the ship. I could have bled out from the cat scratch if I did not feel it. Thankfully there was very little blood, and I am now only concerned with infection, gangrene, the loss of my leg or cat scratch fever (whatever that is).

The largest obstacle to dealing with pain artfully is you. Here is why. We spend way too much time thinking about our self.  We are self-oholics. One of the many aspects of this disease is that we naturally judge the pain to be bad because we do not want it, and we react emotionally. Of course we do not want it, no captain wants to hear, "the engine in on fire!", but why would he get irritated, angry, or frustrated at the messenger?

It makes no sense but it happens to all of us. First you get the message from your body, it may be very loud or very soft. Then your emotions kick in; it may start with irritation or anger then lead to frustration. If it lasts longer than your expectations, thoughts such as "This is killing me," "I can't stand it," "How long will this last?" "My life is a mess," "I'll never master this pain" come and go as the messenger reminds you of the damage.

With these points in mind, let us use a more enhanced definition for pain. Pain is your emotional reaction to the negative messages from your body to your mind. The worse our emotional reaction the higher degree of pain we experience. We want to focus on how we feel about the pain and not how the pain feels.

The first step is to get your head off of yourself and accept the messenger, we need him. He lets us know when there is something wrong. Without him we would have no idea if something were going wrong inside the ship. Can you be thankful for pain? If he is persistent, if he is loud, he is just doing his job. If you react emotionally to him he will just get louder and more persistent.

We have to accept the situation. We should do our best to maintain our ship and avoid treacherous waters, but we need to accept the fact that things will break, things wear out, and accidents happen. It is all part of the experience. Disease, sickness and death are part of life. Emotional reactions do not change the facts or improve our ability to handle the problems.

Living Artfully involves paying attention to the pain messenger and not selfishly reacting to him. If you listen to the messenger carefully and let him know you are fully aware of the problem he may become less loud and persistent and perhaps go away all together. Confronting the messenger serves no purpose. You cannot fight pain and win.

This exercise is exactly the same as Section 3 except for the breathing and release steps.

Remember the Rules

  • No expectations allowed, be patient with your self, you are not trying to "go" anywhere.
  • No judging allowed. Accept your thoughts, feelings, and sensations for what they are just part of the experience you are just an observer.
  • Be gentle with your self. If you break the first two rules and get a mental itch do no not scratch just observe it, accept it, and gently move on.

Do this in a quiet space where you will not be disturbed. Keep in mind you can adjust these steps and do whatever in comfortable for you.

Step 1. Breathe Out.

            This is a very common step actors and athletes perform before any event. Take a deep breath in and hold it for a moment, as you tense your body. Now breath out forcefully. With that outflow of air, take note of the release of your physical and emotional tension.

Step 2. Center Up.

             Find a chair you can sit straight in. Stand in front of the chair and place your feet shoulder length apart. Sway in different directions and find your center of balance. Then sit in the chair. Do not move your feet; keep them in contact with the floor.

               Center the spine. This has a direct influence on your state of mind; you feel more attentive and positive when your spine is straight. With your shoulders back and your head up and move your body in different directions until you find your center. Hold that position and do not rest your elbows on the arms of the chair.

 Step 3. Widen Out.

            Look at an object directly in front of you and focus on it. Without moving your eyes notice how many other objects you can see, and how far to the left and right you can see, take your time. Now take a big mental snap shot of the whole picture and hold it for a few moments.

 Step 3. Take inventory

           Close your eyes and take an inventory of all the noises in the room, mentally check them off as you find them.

Step 4. Breathe

          Take the state of mind you have just cultivated and focus on only your breathing. Listen carefully to each breath and count softly each time you exhale. When you get to 10 go back to 1.

After a few minutes give your attention to any pain messengers from your body, take in the loudest or the softest. As you give your attention to the pain remember to keep breathing. Try not to react just observe and focus closely on the pain, accept it, softly exhale, focus, and exhale, back and forth, over and over, just like rocking gently in a chair. Go from one pain messenger to the other and remember the rules, no judging, no expectations, and no frustrations.

Do not forget, your thoughts will drift, and that is okay, acknowledge them and then give your attention back to your breath and your messenger. If you drift a thousand times just gently go back a thousand times. If you can, do this for at least 15 minutes or more.

Step 5. Release

          When you are finished, open your eyes and recall the pain messengers that came to your attention, describe to yourself the loudest most persistent message as if you were talking to a doctor.  

During your daily activities you can go directly to the focus, accept and breathe technique whenever a pain messenger demands your attention. As you exhale you will feel the pain soften and perhaps go away.

Reread this information often to make sure you are not forgetting any points or steps.

Food for Thoughts

  • Why do selfish thoughts increase the degree of pain?
  • How can thankfulness decrease the degree of pain?
  • How can the attitude of others affect our degree of pain?

Study: Why Does Feeling Low Hurt? Depressed Mood Increases the Perception of Pain

Study: Meditation Reduces the Emotional Impact of Pain

Study: Brief Training in Meditation May Help Manage Pain