Many years ago, while at a mindfulness retreat, I was complaining to the Buddhist monk that I couldn’t sit cross-legged like everyone else as it was painful. His solution was simple and very kind…he told me to sit in a chair! He then asked me about my experience of pain and if I had ever noticed how it’s constantly changing.
He said that the pain doesn’t stay the same the whole time we’re aware of it. It moves slightly, the intensity changes. Sometimes we are aware of it, and then we get distracted and don’t notice it until it’s back in our awareness.
Seeing all pain differently
I was fascinated by what he was telling us and I could see the pain and discomfort I was feeling was indeed moving and changing. Since then I’ve come to see both physical and mental pain very differently.
Pain used to feel solid and immovable as though it lived in one spot for a long time. But then I would pay attention to it and see how the pain changed. It would feel less severe or it would intensify. Or it would change position, moving a little to the left or moving down a bit.
Seeing pain in this way helped me to loosen my thinking around what I thought pain meant to me. I began to see that like everything in life, nothing stays the same, it’s continually changing even if I’m not aware of the changes taking place. I can have such a fixed idea about something that it’s almost impossible for me to see it differently.
I can also see that this happens with mental pain. That too can feel solid, and immovable. But I noticed that there were moments when I’d forget the distress the pain was causing me, I’d even laugh at something. Then I’d remember the pain and the problem was back feeling as difficult as before.
A sense of freedom and hope emerges
Since noticing this for myself over the last few years, I’ve felt more freedom around the pain I experience and more hope. I can leave the pain alone, knowing that it will move on in time.
Experiment with this yourself. The next time you have a physical, or mental pain, just observe it and notice if it stays the same the whole time. Can you find any freedom in seeing pain as ever changing?