Pain is not something we like to sit with. Whether it’s discomfort from a broken bone, aches associated with an illness or random sensations like headaches that seem to come and go as they please, our first instinct is to get rid of pain from the moment we feel it start to creep up.
That’s not an unnatural reaction, of course, but too often we turn to unnatural means of dealing with the problem. Painkillers are effective to a point, but their success relies in large part on our continued dependence on them. They also don’t address secondary pain, which is the filter through which the brain interprets the primary, physical pain and forms your conscious reaction to it.
An injury or an illness is rarely ever perceived as just “how it is.” If it were, you wouldn’t have anxious thoughts like “when will this stop?” or “I can’t take another day like this” or even “what’s happening?” Secondary pain is your mind trying to make sense of a sensation, and the severity of its manifestation can vary wildly from person to person, even if the physical injury is the same.
If left untreated, secondary pain can start to overwhelm. Small injuries and short-term illnesses can feel worse than they are as the brain is actually searching for pain and feeding it back to you. You become so consciously aware of your desire to get rid of pain that your subconscious is working in overdrive to bring it to your attention. Pain gets the upper hand and wields all the power.
Meditation is the way to take that power back. A lifetime of feeling the effects of secondary pain doesn’t require a lifetime of mindfulness training to undo, either. After a few short, focused sessions, sufferers of chronic and acute pain have reported a significant decrease in discomfort that lasts beyond the meditation itself.
Mindfulness can’t heal a broken bone. But think about what’s actually most painful about, say, an arm fracture. Is it the state of your shoulder in a sling, or the depression of thinking how slowed you’ll be only using one arm, the activities you’ll miss out on and the dread of enduring physical therapy? Meditation quiets those associated thoughts that often amplify the pain, relaxing your mind. In turn, your body relaxes as well, and the lack of tension allows it to devote more energy to healing.
Instead of shying away from what ails you, use meditation to lean into those painful sensations. A full body scan is a great way to acknowledge areas that hurt. Check in with every part of your body starting at the top of your head, playing the part of an observer as you allow yourself to feel fully. Paired with a constant awareness of your breath, you’ll allow those anxious, secondary pain-related thoughts to come and go without letting them consume you.
For anyone who has suffered debilitating pain or even short-term discomfort, there is a great desire to unburden yourself from what ails you. There is a subtle but profound difference between thinking about your pain and simply acknowledging where it exists, and meditation gives you the power to overcome the mental side of secondary pain. Give meditation a try with the intention of alleviating your painful thoughts and begin changing your relationship with pain.