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Sitting Through Pain
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4/9/19 7:58 AM
Lately I’ve been experiencing a sh*tstorm of pain following shoulder surgery in January. I developed a bad case of bursitis in the non-surgical shoulder, and the entire business has triggered a fibromyalgia flare. Pain medication has been of limited help because I develop a tolerance for NSAIDS very easily, and I’ve had to eliminate opioids because I was getting mildly addicted. Doing the recommended exercises seems to make things worse, although I am still working to find a level I can manage. I have slept poorly and also have been depressed off and on (seeing a therapist tomorrow, finally). So basically, I’m not functioning well. 

My discipline for practice has gone down the drain as a result of all these things, yet I tend to see practice as the way forward. Has anyone had similar experiences, and if so, do you have practice recommendations? My time has been chopped up a lot with visits to physical therapy, acupuncture (not really helping any more, alas), trips to the therapeutic pool, and whatnot. I don’t need pain management or surgery recovery recommendations; have plenty of help with that from lots of people, just some help and encouragement for practice. Thanks. 

RE: Sitting Through Pain
Answer
4/9/19 9:43 AM as a reply to Laurel Carrington.
Hi Laurel,

Sorry to hear about your sh*tstorm. I've spent a positively huge amount of time over the years using various types of pain as an object and this has probably done more to increase my skill level in practice than any other thing. From this perspective, pain is quite a gift!

The gist of it is that you treat it just like any other sensation which of course it is--an itch, for example. It isn't solid, but constantly changing and moving around. You may notice waves, and that even though there's still pain in between the peaks of intensity there is also relief there. And noticing this is quite interesting and engaging, which can increase energy and generate pleasurable sensations. How does the pain change with cycles of the breath? What are the different types of pain that you can detect--sharp, dull, throbbing, etc.? Where are its limits, and are they static or fluid? What/where are associated emotions and how do they change as the pain changes? Notice aversion and desire. And if you were getting mildly addicted to the pain meds, can you find any sensations that are actually signs of withrawal and what are they like? Etc. If it all gets to be too much, you can rest in space for awhile to catch a break.

Best wishes for your practice and recovery!

RE: Sitting Through Pain
Answer
4/9/19 9:14 AM as a reply to Laurel Carrington.
You can practice strong noting with your daily activities.

Better, you can use these problems to your advantage by noting subtle aversion to the whole thing (depression), and subtle mind coping mechanisms with this situation. Usually there's also fear, resentment, expectation, etc.

There's usually some parts of us that drastically rejects a bad situation. You can notice how it moves, how it feels, how it wants to detach from real reality or embrace a fictional reality.

Noting is a really really powerful technique if applied to very subtle sensations or what Daniel calls "core processes".
Also note comparisons, the mind is always comparing. People in pain compare themselves to other people, to themselves when they didn't have pain, to people that have more pain. But comparing is something that you do, so you can note it.

You have to be careful because noting can become automatic and detach from what is really happening. At that point, the mind has to speed up and note the noting.

About the pain, my experience is that 70-80% of physical health is derived from what we eat.
Diet is a very complex and controversial subject, but you can make very, very significant changes in health by changing what you eat (in my case, from pain to no pain).

Finally, being in pain really sucks.

I hope you get better and that this helps!

RE: Sitting Through Pain
Answer
4/9/19 10:34 AM as a reply to Ernest Michael Olmos.
Thanks, people—great suggestions! My big challenge is sitting with the pain when I just want to turn away by distracting myself. I have briefly done what Andromeda suggests by watching it closely, although I have trouble doing it for long. My withdrawal has eased up, but while I was going through it I couldn’t stand sitting for more than a few minutes. It was as if I had a swarm of hornets in my head and jangling all through my body. Then the twitches and jerks would start up, and I’d be done.

I need the discipline to be with unpleasantness, and I’m working on it. Maybe some baby steps. When I did my intense meditation in the past, I didn’t have such physical challenges. The other problem is fatigue and insomnia, which are related to pain. I lie in bed in a semi-comatose state. If I had enough awareness I’d find a way to meditate with it, but so far I don’t. I am thinking that working with this stuff through practice is the only real answer for my life, though. So I just have to stop kicking the can down the road and get into it. 

One final point: after doing a lot of noting in the past, I’m doing TMI now, but am wondering whether this is the best time for me to attempt that. Not sure one way or the other. 

RE: Sitting Through Pain
Answer
4/9/19 11:04 AM as a reply to Laurel Carrington.
Great suggestions so far. I will add that shinzen has some pain meditation advice. Maybe check on YouTube. 

Correlations have been seen with inflammation and  both fibromyalgia and depression in the scientific research. An anti-inflammatory diet would also speed surgical recovery. I would search for your ailments on https://nutritionfacts.org and watch the videos.

RE: Sitting Through Pain
Answer
4/9/19 11:28 AM as a reply to Laurel Carrington.
There's also taking and sending. Breathe in all the world's pain (you can visualize it as dark or bloody smoke) and breathe out all your comfort and joy (I see it as hues of gold). It's an exchange, not a transformation. And it's not supposed to make you feel better. If you do it with that intention, it will corrupt your practice. 

RE: Sitting Through Pain
Answer
4/9/19 12:33 PM as a reply to Laurel Carrington.
I'm sorry to hear about your struggle Laurel.

A few small advice. I don't know if you have ideas about what posture should be used. But if you do just find the most comfortable one possible.

Lay down, use comfortable pillows/heat pads whatever makes it more endurable. If you have one maybe try mediation in the bathtub?

Also, be gentle to yourself regarding time, maybe blocks of 5 min are enough, to begin with. Now is now, don't compare practice to when you were pain-free.

with love

RE: Sitting Through Pain
Answer
4/9/19 2:59 PM as a reply to Laurel Carrington.
There is a post by Daniel:

https://www.dharmaoverground.org/discussion/-/message_boards/message/4087276

where he was really sick, and he basically said that meditation was impossible.

RE: Sitting Through Pain
Answer
4/9/19 5:04 PM as a reply to Ernest Michael Olmos.
Ernest Michael Olmos:
There is a post by Daniel:

https://www.dharmaoverground.org/discussion/-/message_boards/message/4087276

where he was really sick, and he basically said that meditation was impossible.

There may be a point on the spectrum of sickness/traumatic injury/death where meditation becomes impossible. Until then, we should keep trying. 

More on taking and sending: you really want to imagine that you ARE taking in the pain of others, so on the inhale try to see if you can intensify the pain. Then on the exhale, as you let go of that, try to tap into the feelings of relief to send it away.

RE: Sitting Through Pain
Answer
4/10/19 5:50 AM as a reply to Andromeda.
Adding to that--

Of course, we have to be careful to have reasonable expectations and not beat ourselves up further if we can't do much, or if the only practice we can do after taking care of our physical needs is keep a close watch on emotional reactivity so it doesn't bleed through onto others. That's important, and very challenging to do when we're feeling bad. Metta can be a soothing practice here.

Still, working directly with pain has for me led to some dramatic spiritual openings and I have seen the same in others. I really think it's where the rubber meets the road in practice, as this is what most of us will face in the end unless we are in the minority who are granted a very quick and sudden death (and even then, we really can't know what it will be like and would do well to prepare as best we can). There is important work to be done here.

Bhikkhu Analayo's Mindfully Facing Disease and Death is a good resource.