This morning there was a request for techniques on how to deal with physical pain while you meditate. There are four steps in dealing with pain…
If you can maintain (this) determination, you’ll find that the breath energy in the spot where you’re focused becomes more and more comfortable, more powerful. That’s when you can move to the third step, which is to think of that comfortable energy spreading through the pain. For example, if you feel comfortable energy in the area around the heart, and the pain is in your knee, think of the energy flowing from the heart down through the body, down through the leg, through the pain, and then out to the feet, relaxing any feelings of tension you may feel in those parts of the body. Make sure that you don t stop the energy flow right at the pain. Perceive the pain as being porous—it’s not a wall—and that the energy can go through it easily. In this way, you’re not being the victim of the pain. You’re taking a more proactive role. It’s not so easy for the pain to shoot you when you’re being proactive. In this way, you feel less threatened by the pain. The voices in the mind that are complaining about the pain have less and less power.
After your concentration is well established, you’re ready for the fourth step in dealing with the pain, which is to focus directly on the actual sensation of the pain, to see what the sensation is and what your perceptions about the sensation are. Perception here can be any images or words in the mind that arise to label the pain.
Then you bring in appropriate attention: Start questioning those perceptions. For example, if there s a perception that the knee is in pain, ask yourself, Is the knee really in pain? Actually, the knee is one thing—it’s a physical phenomenon, which in the Buddhist analysis is made up of four elementary properties: a feeling of solidity, a feeling of warmth, a feeling of coolness, a feeling of energy—but the pain is something else. It is not a physical phenomenon. It’s a mental phenomenon. Even though they’re in the same place, it’s as if they’re on different wavelengths—like the radio waves from Monaco and Marseilles going through the air of this room right now. If your radio can distinguish between the different frequencies, it can produce the sounds from the right station without interference from the others. Can you distinguish between the physical and the mental phenomena in the knee in the same way?
Other questions you might ask yourself are: Where is the most intense point of the pain? Does it stay in the same place or does it move around? Does it come or go? When it comes, what perception comes with it? If there’s any perception that intensifies the pain, can you drop that perception? There are many other questions you could ask. The important thing is that you learn how to take a proactive role. In other words, you’re not the victim, and when you’re not the victim, there’s nothing that the pain can hit.
Another perception you might try to apply to the pain, to counteract the sense of being victimized by it, is to imagine that you’re sitting in the back of a car, the old sort of car where the back seats face backwards. Whatever you see on the side of the road as you re facing backwards, you re seeing it whiz past and go away. Whiz past and go away. Again and again. In the same way, when you see a moment of pain arise, you’re actually seeing it whizzing past and going away. As soon as you see a moment of pain, it s going away. When another moment of pain comes, it s going away, too. If you can hold this perception in mind, you’ll suffer much less from the pain, and sometimes you’ll find that the old perception that you were previously placing on the pain was actually causing the pain. When you apply a new perception, the pain goes away. But even if the pain is still there when you change perceptions, when you have a correct perception and are applying appropriate attention, you don t have to see the pain as attacking you. Your awareness is one thing; the pain is something else. That way you can live with the pain, but without suffering from it.
So you have four steps all together. The first is the preventative, the second is to stay in a comfortable part of the body, the third is to use the comfortable energy in that part and spread it through the pain to dissolve any tension that has built up around the pain, and the fourth is to investigate and question the pain, along with the perceptions around the pain.
This way, you’re following the Buddha’s statement that your duty with regard to pain is not to destroy it or to run away from it, but to comprehend it. To
comprehend it, you need to feel not threatened by it. This is why we develop concentration: to give you the confidence that you can stay with the pain and
This reflection by Ajaan Geoff is from the book, The Karma of Mindfulness, pp. 29-30.