Practicing With Pain

Brandon Dayton, modified 2 Years ago at 10/22/19 1:31 PM
Created 2 Years ago at 10/22/19 1:31 PM

Practicing With Pain

Posts: 511 Join Date: 9/24/19 Recent Posts
I'm not one to intentionally seek out opportunities for self mortification, but I am interested in the idea (particularly as framed by Zhinzen Young) of developing equanimity as a skill, i.e. the ability to experience pain and unpleasentness with the minimum amount of extra misery beyond the actual bare sensations. Letting it flow -- whatever.

It just so happenned that I had an "opportunity" to practice this over the past day. I was on the tail end of a cold when I started to develop an ear infection in my left ear. I saw a doctor and got on some anti-biotics, but there was quite a bit of misery in the process of waiting for the pain to ease up. Probably a 6.5 on one those pain scales with the happy and sad faces. The pressure on my eardrum was enough that eventually ruptured that night. I was even taking imprudent amounts of ibuprofen and having it barely take the edge off.

Being in so much misery, I could literally do nothing else but some sort of meditation (hooray for my daily streak!). So I sat on my couch and took the focus-in approach and just did what I could to vipassinize the pain. I did a pretty good job of keeping my body relaxed through the process while I broke apart the sensations into their various components. I mostly did okay on staying emotionally stable too. I was able to do this over the course of few hours. At my skill level it took all my concentration to stay in that place. I was just sitting on my bed with a goofy grin on my face while my wife was putting the kids to bed. It was still profoundly unpleasant, so I can't say that I hit any high-level equanimity, but it certainly was a vast improvement of my usual way of dealing with pain. 

That night, the pain caused me trouble sleeping, but I did notice moments where I could look at the pain and know exactly what it's bounds where, and find a certain degree of relaxation in that process. The next morning, my ear pain was joined by stomach pain from dumping ungodly amounts of ibuprofen down my gullet, and I lost my shit, but it was interesting to have a small degree of equanimity, if just for a little bit.

I'd be intererested in other approaches practicioners have to pain and developing equanimity in this regard. I'm guessing some of that comes just from base vipassana practice, but I'm guessing there are jhanic approaches as well (something I'm yet to have any experience with). It's one of the areas of contemplative practice I am most interested as I am by nature very reactive to unpleasentess (what's the best colloquiall term for that? cry baby? little bitch? belly acher? Yes, all of those.)
Lars, modified 2 Years ago at 10/22/19 2:32 PM
Created 2 Years ago at 10/22/19 1:46 PM

RE: Practicing With Pain

Posts: 420 Join Date: 7/20/17 Recent Posts
I find it useful to recognize that the pain sensations are only a tiny percentage of the sensations occurring at that moment. There's this huge field of perception, but only a very small number of those sensations are "a problem". Taking a broader perspective can cause those unpleasant sensations to fade into the background. As you've been doing you can also vipassanize sensations which can sometimes break them up to a point they're not even recognizeable as pain anymore, but sometimes it can also cause the pain to intensify similar to focusing on piti and watching it grow.

Another interesting exercise is to play with "tape loops". Most of the time we're not experiencing sensations clearly, we're experiencing the conceptualized object the mind creates out of the bare sensations. Those objects are like tape loops and can be screwed with. Try alternating between painful and pleasant sensations and see if the mind can be tricked into feeling pain as pleasure. You can do similar parlor tricks with experiencing warm as cold and cold as warm. You can essentially cause one loop to temporarily overwrite the other using attention.

It's funny, I can break up pain fairly reliably in the rest of the body but for some reason headaches defy that technique. The best I can do with headaches currently is take the broader perspective. It also helps somewhat to remember that the pain can't actually damage your mind/body, it's just a temporary sensation triggered by whatever medical issue is occurring. It's a lot like fear, it's big and loud and right in your face but it really can't do anything to harm you beyond the unpleasantness of the sensation.
svmonk, modified 2 Years ago at 10/22/19 9:34 PM
Created 2 Years ago at 10/22/19 9:32 PM

RE: Practicing With Pain

Posts: 396 Join Date: 8/23/14 Recent Posts
Hi Brandon,

Sounds like you had a really tough night.

The way I deal with pain is to see the self in it, and try to let that go. Then the pain just becomes a bunch of swirling sensations and energy (prana). This is easier to do if the pain is in a limb, or maybe in your abdomen than in your head. It's kind of inspired by Shinzen Young, but also by some tantric Mahamudra practices I've been doing lately.

For example, in July I was hit by a car on my bicycle, and was in extreme pain from having broken my shoulder blade and bruised up my side. Actually, I was in shock, shaking, sweating, and cold. I did manage to separate the self out for a moment, but then the painkillers kicked in. They didn't do much to relieve the shock though.

Hope that helps.
Brandon Dayton, modified 2 Years ago at 10/24/19 2:54 PM
Created 2 Years ago at 10/24/19 12:34 PM

RE: Practicing With Pain

Posts: 511 Join Date: 9/24/19 Recent Posts
Really interesting suggestions. I am at a place with my practice now where I spend a lot of time focusing very intently on small areas of sensation, so I fall most easily into doing the same thing with pain (there is clearly a grasping with the pain that reinforces this). I had some continuing pain last night and tried this broader perspective approach. Difficult to let go of the pain and see everything else going on. Very revealing of how much goes on other than the sensation to make it distressing. Still much going on mentally and emotionally that is tied up with the pain.

I did have another exercise that seemed interesting. I would go back and forth between the pain and another sensation. Kind of a one-for-you, one-for-me exercise. Focus on the pain, pull it apart, then vocus on another sensation elsewhere then back to the pain.

The tape loops exercise was trickier. I might need more time on the cuhsion to get there. There is something about how I am holding on to the pain that seems to permeate the rest of the sensations. Finding the subtle pleasant sensations in the midst of that was tough.
Brandon Dayton, modified 2 Years ago at 10/24/19 12:43 PM
Created 2 Years ago at 10/24/19 12:43 PM

RE: Practicing With Pain

Posts: 511 Join Date: 9/24/19 Recent Posts
This is something I would like to get to. No self for me is still a very slippery concept. I'm starting to see many of the ways in which the illusion is created, but being able to do anything with it still feels quite out of bounds for me. I guess that's the whole point of this practice though!
Dream Walker, modified 2 Years ago at 10/25/19 2:14 AM
Created 2 Years ago at 10/25/19 2:14 AM

RE: Practicing With Pain

Posts: 1470 Join Date: 1/18/12 Recent Posts
First, you could look thru the forum with Google like this pain

At the mind level you can focus on other things
At the vipassana level you can break the sensations up
At the jhana level you can fabricate a state without pain
At the awareness level you can be at one with all things in a nondual way, without the self causing grab to make suffering of pain the same.
Good luck
Lars, modified 2 Years ago at 10/25/19 12:13 PM
Created 2 Years ago at 10/25/19 12:13 PM

RE: Practicing With Pain

Posts: 420 Join Date: 7/20/17 Recent Posts
Just in case this is of any benefit:
I have heard that on one occasion the Blessed One was staying near
Rajagaha at the Maddakucchi Deer Reserve. Now at that time his foot had
been pierced by a stone sliver. Excruciating were the bodily feelings
that developed within him — painful, fierce, sharp, wracking, repellent,
disagreeable — but he endured them mindful, alert, & unperturbed.
Having had his outer robe folded in four and laid out, he lay down on
his right side in the lion's posture, with one foot placed on top of the
other, mindful & alert.-- SN 1.38
"And what are the fermentations to be abandoned by tolerating?
There is the case where a monk, reflecting appropriately, endures. He
tolerates cold, heat, hunger, & thirst; the touch of flies,
mosquitoes, wind, sun, & reptiles; ill-spoken, unwelcome words &
bodily feelings that, when they arise, are painful, racking, sharp,
piercing, disagreeable, displeasing, & menacing to life. The
fermentations, vexation, or fever that would arise if he were not to
tolerate these things do not arise for him when he tolerates them. These
are called the fermentations to be abandoned by tolerating.-- MN 2