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Do You Practice These 2 Types of Mindfulness To Help Your Pain?

May 7th, 2007 · 6 Comments

Is mindfulness the new hip trend?  Is the core of mindfulness being lost as it becomes a superficial practice?

I talk with my patients about mindfulness, about being wherever they are in terms of pain, and about accepting their state, including pain.

So an interesting article in Utne magazine about what mindfulness really is caught my eye.  The author, Thubten Chodron, is an American-born Tibetan nun and an abbess at a Buddhist monastic community in Washington state.  She wondered if mindfulness is the latest Buddhist jargon going around.

Chodron highlights that there is a difference between practicing mindfulness and the traditional Buddhist understanding of mindfulness as a component of the path to liberation.

She writes that Buddha described four basic ways we misunderstand our experiences in this world, and that mindfulness is a remedy to our misunderstanding.  Here’s what we misunderstand:

1. We think things are permanent.
When things are good, we don’t want anything to change.  However, we need to learn that people and things are impermanent.  We do this by being open to our own aging, to death, and to losing people and things in our lives.  Things come… things go… things change.

2. We look for happiness from things that can’t bring happiness to us.
We need to let go of the hope that “happiness is just around the corner.”  That a new job, better partner, or more financial success will make us happy.  Otherwise, we stay in the cycle of striving for things to be different from what they are, and we experience disappointment when what we’re hoping will bring us lasting happiness doesn’t do that.  We need to accept things as they are.

3. We fight against nature and how things are.
Chodron gives the example of our own bodies and how we fight to make them different than they are.  We want to be thinner, less wrinkly, never go gray.  We need to accept our changing selves.  With acceptance comes being with how things are, instead of distress over the difference between how we want things to be and how they actually are.

4. We see ourselves as separate from others.
Identifying a “me” brings emotions such as “craving, fear, hostility, anxiety, resentment, arrogance, and laziness,” which all bring suffering.  We fight to keep what is “mine.”  We’re resentful that others have more – more money, more beauty, more knowledge, etc.  We need to let go of evaluating and judging, and just accept things as they are.

Chodron believes that by being more aware of our misunderstandings, we’re better able to let go of our “habitual, self-centered ways,” and become open to others and working for the benefit of all.  We become open to “genuine love and compassion.”

So how does mindfulness relate to pain?

First, let’s not give up the benefits of even the “hip” practices of mindfulness exercises which can help with pain.  Simple mindfulness exercises such as a focus on breathing or other relaxation exercises can certainly decrease stress and pain.

But how about this deeper sense of mindfulness that Chodron writes about?  Naturally most of us have these misunderstandings as they apply to our experience of pain, and we can use mindfulness to help ourselves.

1.  We can let go of clinging to our desire for a healthy, un-painful body.

Often with pain comes clinging to the past – what our bodies and our lives used to be like – which can cause sadness and depression.  (At the other end, we may over-focus on the future, which can bring anxiety – will I feel better? – and fear that we won’t.)  Focusing on the present can lessen this sadness on one end and the fear on the other end.

2.  We don’t need to wait until we’re pain-free to live.

Of course we’ll continue to work to make ourselves more comfortable.  But we can also focus on living our lives despite pain, and avoid an “I-won’t-be-happy-until-I’m-pain-free” attitude.  The goal is to be happy despite pain.

3.  We can accept, nurture and care for our bodies, even in pain.

Do you practice loving kindness towards the areas of your body that are in pain?  Rather than seeing those parts as the enemy, remember that they’re part of you, but that they’re in trouble and need your care.

4.  We can move from an inward focus to opening up to others.

We can keep our lives meaningful despite pain – keep our focus on family and friends, and our life’s work - even if that has to change, or how we do that has to change because of pain.  Again, the goal is living fully despite pain.

I do think that this is a process, a journey… actually a journey for a lifetime.

What helps you be mindful?  What helps you be mindful as it relates to pain?

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6 responses so far ↓

  • jeisea // May 16, 2007 at 1:26 am

    I think your suggestions are excellent. I cannot change the “fact” of pain but I now understand that I can do some things despite pain. There is nothing served by putting my life on hold waiting for the pain to go.
    You’re right about looking after ourselves. Each time I choose nutritious food, take a warm bath, exercise etc, I empower myself by making good decisions.
    Lastly I agree that reaching out to others really helps me feel better about myself.
    Thank you for this post.

  • HtCwP // May 16, 2007 at 5:47 am

    I also think that moving on from…
    being upset about our pain, or
    resentful that we have it, or
    angry it if was caused by someone’s mistake – a car accident, a medical procedure…
    can be hard, can take a while (for some, longer than others), but is so necessary.

  • Byron // May 17, 2010 at 2:37 pm

    I totally agree, letting go is essential, yet extremely difficult, and to my demise at times, I’ve waited on litigation to be over, which is based on the pain, before I allowed myself to enjoy myself, because I was told that the opposition would have people watching me to make sure I wasn’t faking my pain, I eventually won a fairly substantial claim, which I withered away in a shorter time that it took to get it, and suddenly I’m ten years older.

    I like this subject alot, how do you go about finding local support groups? and what other online websites are their to reach out too?

  • How to Cope with Pain // May 17, 2010 at 7:43 pm

    Byron, the question of litigation preventing improvement has been shown to be true in research. Unfortunately, it’s often a win (the case)/lose (time and improvement) or the reverse for patients.

    Where else to look? See if any local university psychology department, yoga studio, place of worship, or acupuncturer has mindfulness classes. This website has lots on mindfulness – just search the topic on this blog. For general support, you could start with the national organization of your disease, if there is one, or look here and at other websites/blogs on the web about your disease or about mindfulness.

    Let us know how your search goes!

  • kim // Jul 14, 2010 at 11:00 am

    who cares if it’s ‘hip’ if it helps! i have been practicing mindfulness meditation for chronic pain and it really helps me cope. i would highly recommend the book ‘living well with pain and illness’ by vidyamala burch. she also has some cd’swith guided mindfulness exercises. you can find out more at

  • jim keating // Apr 29, 2013 at 3:06 pm

    chronic pain peripheral neuropathy hands feet arms a-fib all drugs cause tachycardia.i have no tx.and cant play with grandson.ihave grief loss of my dying arms loss of family and friends.i have anger.and cant keep mythoughts off constant progressive pain.i ordered microtens hopeful.warning says dont use if you have a-fib irregular heart beat or pm.Im afraid of lyrica which can cause irregular heartbeats.

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