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Daniel Lyman 10 Days of Silence: Meditation & Pain (Part 1)

Discussion in 'Mindbody Blogs (was Practitioner's Corner)' started by Daniel G Lyman LCSW, Jan 27, 2015.

  1. Daniel G Lyman LCSW

    Daniel G Lyman LCSW TMS Therapist

    10 Days of Silence: Meditation, Pain, & How You Can Become the Most Emotionally Healthy Person You Know

    Part 1: The What and Why

    Over the Christmas holiday, I spent 10 days sitting in a darkened room in complete silence as I practiced meditating for 11 hours a day. No, I’m not crazy. Well, maybe I am, but the retreat was not an exercise in madness. Instead, it was an exercise in mental fortitude. I wanted to step-up my meditation game, as well as spend time alone to work through some of my own issues and bring some clarity to my current life. Fortunately, these things were accomplished, and much more. Read on to find out more about the retreat, how meditation can help with pain, and why you should go on your own meditation retreat (or at least start meditating).

    The Logistics

    10 days. Complete silence. 11 hours of meditation. How did it all work? Well, the retreat was structured so that each day there was never more than 2 hours of meditation at a time without some sort of break. 2 hours meditating in the meditation hall, then breakfast and a break. 2 more hours in the hall, then another break before an hour meditating in my private room. This pattern continued throughout the day until 9PM, when I would go to sleep. The first bell of the next morning rang at 4AM, so there was little time to waste when heading to bed.

    At this point, after reading about the schedule, you fall into either one of two camps of thought: 1) This sounds miserable and I would never want to do this, or 2) Where do I sign up?

    And listen, I understand both sides. On one hand, ten days of silence with nothing to do but meditate sounds like willingly subjecting yourself to torture in a foreign prison. On the other hand, having no responsibilities except meditation sounds absolutely wonderful – no bills, no job, no one depending on you for anything, and the peacefulness of a park-like setting around you.

    Once you get over the hurdle of why doing something like this is completely insane, it turns out the benefits are innumerable. Google “mindfulness meditation,” and you’ll see hundreds of studies demonstrating the effectiveness of a steady meditation practice. It’s the trendiest thing in pop psychology at the moment, and Western researchers everywhere are discovering how beneficial it can be for nearly every part of your life: your spiritual, psychological, and (most surprisingly) physical health.

    The Science

    So, as I said – we all know meditation is beneficial, but why should I do it?

    If you are someone who is prone to chronic pain (physical and/or emotional), then consider meditation the intensive surgery that your body and mind needs to fully heal. And if you are in pain or have recently recovered from chronic pain, you need this surgery ASAP.

    Why? Some of my colleagues have postulated as to the effectiveness of meditation in combating physical pain (TMS symptoms) – and many of them are right that it won’t cure you of your pain outright. When someone is in intense pain, often times more drastic measures than meditation are needed to get out of it. BUT, if you have reduced or eliminated your pain, then meditation is one of the most effective ways of keeping it at bay. Don’t want the pain to come back and can’t regularly afford expensive therapy to keep emotionally healthy? Don’t worry – meditation is not only extremely effective, it’s also free!

    To help understand why meditation is useful for pain, first we need to understand how this particular type of meditation works.

    Let’s take a moment and talk about Impermanence (anitya, in sanskrit). Many types of meditation are focused on the idea of impermanence. What does that mean?

    Impermanence is a Buddhist idea that says that everything around us is constantly in a state of change. From moment to moment. From nanosecond to nanosecond.

    Nothing is the same.

    Nothing at all.

    From a scientific point of view, Impermanence is evident in every single bit of matter: the chair you’re sitting on, the walls you’re surrounded by, the food you’re eating, and yes, even your body. How could this be? How could it be that EVERYTHING is impermanent? Well, it turns out that each and every subatomic particle that is in all matter is vibrating all the time. Protons, Electrons, Neurons – they’re all moving about like it’s they’re on a Christmas shopping spree at the Mall of America. All the time. And that’s not just Buddhism – that’s Physics! Meditators have known for thousands of years what Western science is now catching up to: Every bit of matter is composed of subatomic particles that are constantly moving.

    Now, while all of the subatomic particles are moving about, it turns out that cells are constantly changing and dividing. Old cells die and new ones then go into their place (I’ve simplified this a bit, but you get the idea). Because those cells and atoms and subatomic particles are constantly vibrating, dying, moving, and bumping into other atoms, they are changing! All the time! Even right now as you’re reading this!

    In his book, “Your Atomic Self,” Curt Stager says:

    If you are like most of us, then you normally think of your body as a stable, well-defined entity. You expect to see your same old self in the mirror every morning, and people hold you accountable for things that you did in the past. But your atomic self will cease to exist moments from now, and earlier deeds that are attributed to you were actually done by temporary collections of particles that are no longer with you.​

    When we recognize and understand that everything in the world is constantly changing at the subatomic level, we begin to intellectually understand the idea of impermanence. Right now, even the eyeballs you’re using to read this are changing – atomically they are not the same eyeballs they were even a second ago. * wipes sweat from brow * Impermanence! It’s everywhere.

    On a larger scale, we can actually see Impermanence at work in the world around us. In case you weren’t already aware, everything and everyone you know in this world will be gone someday. Impermanence again! But, I bet I know what you’re thinking: what a sad thought.

    I challenge you – what is inherently sad about change? If you take a moment to process the idea of change, you’ll find that nothing is inherently sad about change. Sometimes we feel good about a change (we’re happy when our bread changes into toast!), sometimes we feel bad about change (we’re sad when our toast gets burnt!), and sometimes we just don’t care about something changing. Change isn’t good or bad. It just is. Whether you choose to love change or hate change – everything everywhere is constantly changing! Your house, your car, your friends, and even YOU will all cease to exist in the form that you know them today. Does that make you sad? I propose to you that it shouldn’t! You already know that everything will change, but when it changes, you still end up feeling unsure about the change. Why?

    Craving and aversion.

    Those are two words to remember. Craving and aversion. When you crave a feeling, you develop an attachment to it. Similarly, when you are averse to a feeling, you develop an attachment to it. Attachment? What? Why is craving a feeling bad?

    When you crave a feeling, you are happy when it is there, but when the feeling goes away, you feel sad, defeated, and frustrated. If you were to observe the pleasant feeling, and not develop an attachment, then when it goes away (which it inevitably will; impermanence) you won’t be sad, defeated, and frustrated. Similarly, if you develop an aversion to something, you will feel sad, defeated, and frustrated when the feeling appears, and rejoice when it goes away. Responding to every good and bad feeling means that you’re constantly living on a rollercoaster of highs and lows. And while that’s fun for a little while – spending a life on that rollercoaster would make anyone nauseous (to say the least).

    To review: Why is it that you become miserable when something in your life changes, or you lose person or thing? Because you have developed an attachment to these people and things. And the reason you have built an attachment to them is because you have been practicing attachment your whole life. You may not be aware of it, but you’ve been practicing becoming attached to people and things as soon as you had an awareness of people and things! Because all people and things are constantly changing, you’re setting yourself up for that attachment to be broken -- and as soon as it’s broken, you become sad. It’s a pattern that we establish early on in our lives and quickly develop into an unconscious habit.

    Here’s another example of attachment (that I’m blatantly stealing from one of the discourses on the retreat): You have an expensive phone that you proudly use every single day. One day, while you’re walking down the street, it slips out of your hand, falls to the ground, and breaks. You immediately begin panicking about your expensive phone and what a disaster the whole situation has become and so you become miserable. What an awful day.

    But what happens when you’re walking down the street and you see somebody else drop and break the exact same phone? You may help them pick it up, but you don’t become miserable at the sight of the exact same phone in the exact same position. Again - the same phone, the same outcome, but an extremely different reaction. One reaction is to become sad, and the other involves no sadness at all! Because you thought of one of those phones as “MY phone,” you developed a strong attachment to it. The other phone was not your phone, and so therefore your mood was not dependent on keeping the phone functional.

    This is where meditation comes in. Many meditation techniques (including mindfulness, Vipassana, etc.) are the practice of remaining observant without attachment. As I wrote above, developing an attachment to ANYTHING leads to suffering. I know, I know, I sound very Buddhist. But it’s true! Attachment means craving or aversion towards anything or anyone, and developing a craving or aversion to anything is useless, for it is impermanent and will change.

    Don’t worry – you don’t have to give away all of your possessions and live like a monk to develop these healthier habits. But how can we take these lessons and apply them to our everyday life? And how can this help people with chronic pain?

    I’ll answer these questions and more in Part 2!
    Last edited by a moderator: Jan 30, 2015
    ezer, mike2014, clairem and 2 others like this.
  2. Walt Oleksy (RIP 2021)

    Walt Oleksy (RIP 2021) Beloved Grand Eagle

    Hi, Daniel. I've read your post carefully and marvel at your patience to spend so much time meditating in a dark room.
    I'm sure it paid off.

    I went on several Catholic retreats over the years, especially one in the Salzburg, Austria mountains when I was in the
    US Army in 1957. It was so peaceful. The retreats are all silent for a weekend, so it's easy to meditate.

    I know what impermanence is. Family and friends move away or die, and so did my two beloved dogs.
    I try not to think of missing them all but recall the wonderful times we had together.
    IrishSceptic likes this.
  3. North Star

    North Star Beloved Grand Eagle

    Outstanding post, Daniel. The cell phone story really helped me understand the attachment tendency we all have. *runs off to read the second post*
  4. clairem

    clairem Peer Supporter

    great article ! thanks
  5. Artist

    Artist Newcomer

    I'm worried and confused though as the TMS books say that you should feel the anger, whereas vipassana is observing the anger... I've done two retreats and I meditate every day. I have recently realized I have TMS RSI. I'm doing a ten day vipassana at home right now (yes cheating looking here) thoughts? Thanks
  6. Daniel G Lyman LCSW

    Daniel G Lyman LCSW TMS Therapist

    The answer to your question lies in your answer! You should always feel your feelings. Always. Vipassana is merely telling you to observe those feelings and don't react to them. Observe how anger affects your body. Don't judge it, just observe (just observe). :)

    Maybe this will help: Feeling is a bodily sensation that you don't have control over, whereas observing is a mental skill that you DO have control over. You can't feel with your brain. You just can't. Use your brain to observe the feelings, but don't try and affect them. Practice observing without judgement. Mental health is observing your bodily sensations without getting attached to them.

    RSI is absolutely a TMS diagnosis. You are going to be fine. Stop worrying. The more you worry, the more you feed your TMS. You can do this.
    Last edited: May 15, 2016
    Artist likes this.
  7. Artist

    Artist Newcomer

    THANK YOU!!! I think I actually figured that out myself while meditating after I asked the question! I think I needed to get the question out in writing! Thank you so much.
  8. ezer

    ezer Well known member

    Great thread. Artist, Eckhart Tolle helped me figure out what it means to feel your feelings or emotions. The main aspect for me is "feeling" your body's reaction to your emotions and not "thinking" about the story around the emotion.

    I also would like to mention a book by Tim Parks "Teach us to sit still". He got cured of prostatitis/pudendal entrapment/CPPS/levator ani syndrome (it is all the same) during a 10 day Vipassana retreat.
    http://www.amazon.com/Teach-Us-Sit-Still-Skeptics/dp/1609614488/ref=asap_bc?ie=UTF8 (Teach Us to Sit Still: A Skeptic's Search for Health and Healing: Tim Parks: 9781609614485: Amazon.com: Books)

    September, 2001 Eckhart Tolle (Practicing the Power of Now)

    Mind, in the way I use the word, is not just thought. It includes your emotions as well as all unconscious mental-emotional reactive patterns. Emotion arises at the place where mind and body meet. It is the body's reaction to your mind — or you might say a reflection of your mind in the body.

    The more you are identified with your thinking, your likes and dislikes, judgments and interpretations, which is to say the less present you are as the watching consciousness, the stronger the emotional energy charge will be, whether you are aware of it or not. If you cannot feel your emotions, if you are cut off from them, you will eventually experience them on a purely physical level, as a physical problem or symptom.

    IF YOU HAVE DIFFICULTY FEELING YOUR EMOTIONS, start by focusing attention on the inner energy field of your body. Feel the body from within. This will also put you in touch with your emotions. If you really want to know your mind, the body will always give you a truthful reflection, so look at the emotion, or rather feel it in your body. If there is an apparent conflict between them, the thought will be the lie, the emotion will be the truth. Not the ultimate truth of who you are, but the relative truth of your state of mind at that time.

    You may not yet be able to bring your unconscious mind activity into awareness as thoughts, but it will always be reflected in the body as an emotion, and of this you can become aware.

    To watch an emotion in this way is basically the same as listening to or watching a thought, which I described earlier. The only difference is that, while a thought is in your head, an emotion has a strong physical component and so is primarily felt in the body. You can then allow the emotion to be there without being controlled by it. You no longer are the emotion; you are the watcher, the observing presence.

    If you practice this, all that is unconscious in you will be brought into the light of consciousness.

    MAKE IT A HABIT TO ASK YOURSELF: What's going on inside me at this moment? That question will point you in the right direction. But don't analyze, just watch. Focus your attention within. Feel the energy of the emotion. If there is no emotion present, take your attention more deeply into the inner energy field of your body. It is the doorway into Being.
    Last edited: May 14, 2016
    Misha, Ellen and Artist like this.
  9. Artist

    Artist Newcomer

    ezer likes this.
  10. ezer

    ezer Well known member

    Artist, you mentioned anger. Anger is a secondary emotion. You are angry because... You felt disrespected? You felt cornered? You felt ignored? You should explore the primal emotional source of what made you angry.

    Before you get angry, usually for a split second you feel a primary emotion (ignored, cornered, disrespected etc.) Those primary emotions are extremely important to feel. In some ways anger is a mechanism that allows you to repress those primary emotions. To not feel the emotion of being disrespected, you get angry. To not feel the emotion of being ignored, you become angry etc. I hope it makes sense.
    Ellen and Renee like this.
  11. Renee

    Renee Well known member

    Before you get angry, usually for a split second you feel a primary emotion (ignored, cornered, disrespected etc.) Those primary emotions are extremely important to feel. In some ways anger is a mechanism that allows you to repress those primary emotions. To not feel the emotion of being disrespected, you get angry. To not feel the emotion of being ignored, you become angry etc. I hope it makes sense.[/QUOTE]

    Ezer, this is the most eloquent explanation of feeling emotions I've ever read. Even better than the so called "experts." Thank you.
    Hayley, Artist and ezer like this.
  12. Artist

    Artist Newcomer

    Thank you that helps!
  13. TG957

    TG957 Beloved Grand Eagle

    Daniel, while I believe I totally understand why attachment leads to suffering, would detaching ourselves from everything lead to being less human? I can see how driven by desire not to suffer people leave for the monasteries but doesn't that take something valuable away from them? What is the way to find the balance between attachment and not suffering?
  14. Daniel G Lyman LCSW

    Daniel G Lyman LCSW TMS Therapist

    Trust yourself! You are your best barometer of suffering. I don't expect everyone to become a monk, of course.

    But, if you feel you are suffering a lot, then you are overly attached. That healthy balance is in your hands.
    TG957 likes this.
  15. Misha

    Misha Peer Supporter

    This totally makes sense, particularly in relation to 'things' but how can we not be attached to people? How can I not be attached to my baby? Can you love without attachment? Am I misunderstanding? Thanks :)
  16. mike2014

    mike2014 Beloved Grand Eagle

    Hi Sara, I've attached the below pdf which explains the concept of attachment from a Buddhist Monk.

    Best regards

    Attached Files:

    Misha likes this.
  17. Misha

    Misha Peer Supporter

    Thanks Mike! That is the perfect explanation :)
    mike2014 likes this.

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