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Daniel Lyman 10 Days of Silence: Meditation & Pain (Part 2)

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 2: The How & Where

    In part one I discussed the ideas of impermanence, craving and aversion, and how these can create suffering. Now let’s talk about how those ideas translate into dealing with chronic pain.

    Meditation & Chronic Pain

    One of the first things I work on with every single client is changing the way we respond to our pain. For example, last year I worked with a client suffering with severe back pain. In fact, she could barely get out of bed. Nearly every time she got out of bed her back pain would flare up, she would panic and get back to bed as quickly as possible. Her day would be ruined. The pain came and her mood was immediately affected. No more positive feelings for the rest of the day. Maybe tomorrow the pain won’t be as bad, she thought, and only then, if the pain wasn’t as bad, would she allow herself to feel good. It’s a cycle that is intimately familiar to most of us. Our outlook on life is entirely dependent on our level of pain.

    This is exactly where we get caught. If we develop an extreme aversion to our pain, then we are solidifying the attachment so strongly that there is nothing that can change our mood other than a decrease in the pain itself. “The only way I can feel less sad, defeated, and frustrated is when I am in less pain than I am now.” We’re putting all of our eggs in one basket. And that is one dangerous basket when it is a basket full of chronic pain (forgive the terrible analogy). To change this, we go about a process that Alan Gordon calls “outcome independence.” This is a great way of saying that even if our pain is at a 10 out of 10, we opt not to care and instead practice not developing an aversion to our pain!

    This is one of the most useful ways to reduce pain in our lives, but it’s hard to practice not caring about a pain when it is so intense. This is where meditation comes in. If we remain purely in an observational state when we have even the smallest of feelings (good or bad), then we are building our skill of outcome independence and experientially understanding impermanence.

    Learn to meditate:

    So, let’s learn how to decrease our attachment to pain (and to all other feelings, while we’re at it). Once you finish reading this, find a place where you can sit completely still in a comfortable position (couch, floor, chair, etc. – doesn’t matter). Just for a few minutes (5 to start). Close your eyes. Take a few deep breaths, and then draw your attention to your body.

    As you’re sitting still with your eyes closed, what sensations do you notice on your body? Maybe some itching? Maybe the fabric you’re wearing is soft and feels nice? Maybe there’s pain? Sweat? Dryness? Tingling? Whatever it is – just notice it. Don’t scratch the itch. Don’t dwell on the softness of the fabric. Don’t move to avoid the slight discomfort that might come from sitting still. Just observe it and move on to noticing a different sensation somewhere else on the body. Observe without judgment. No craving. No aversion. Simply observe.

    Your brain will try and wander away from thinking about your body, and in order to combat that, constantly be moving your attention around your body. Move from the top of your head to the tips of toes, and then back up. Each time you move up or down it should take a few minutes. Move slowly and notice the sensation in each and every part of your body. If you don’t notice a sensation in a particular part, that’s okay – move on to the next part. The important thing is to merely observe a sensation and move to another part of the body. Do not judge the sensation. Do not move your body to try and avoid or increase the sensation. Just observe it and move on.

    If you’re doing this – congrats! You’re meditating like a pro! In fact, this is the same type of meditation that Gautama Siddhartha (know him? You might recognize him by his other name: the BUDDHA) used to attain enlightenment. So do this often enough, and you too can become enlightened! But for now – let’s just focus on how this can get you out of pain.

    Here’s an excerpt from a previous post I wrote about regarding how to put this into practice in everyday moments, not just when you’re meditating:

    Next time you have an itch that you are consciously aware of – don’t scratch it. That’s right – don’t scratch it at all. Notice it, and then move on with whatever you’re doing. Don’t judge it – don’t think about it again, just observe it and move on. It’s harder than it sounds, but it’s possible. Do this every single time an itch shows up. Itches go away on their own (try it – they always do), but we’re unconsciously used to responding to an itch with a negative reaction:

    “Let me scratch this immediately so the unpleasant feeling goes away as soon as possible.”

    Okay, I know nobody consciously thinks like that, but that is exactly what is happening in your unconscious every time you scratch an itch.

    Instead, we want to rewire your unconscious brain so that it says:

    “I notice that I have an itch, but I am 100% positive that it will not last because all sensations (both positive and negative) go away, so I won’t spend my time, energy, and feelings on responding to that itch.”

    Your craving to eliminate pain or your aversion to doing an activity that will cause pain is what is keeping your chronic pain alive today. A strong attachment has been created, and now the pain doesn’t want to go away because you care too much about it. If we keep practicing this, then we increase our ability to notice a sensation (such as pain) and not have any reaction to it. Often times this is enough for people to eliminate their pain entirely! Learning to recognize that the pain is present (whether it be physical or emotional – but that’s high-level emotional health) but that it does not have to affect our mood is difficult, but it can be done. No, I do not think someone can learn this overnight or even with a few weeks of practice – this takes months and years of practice. That said, I have seen clients with a strong meditation practice eliminate their pain very quickly (within 6 weeks – after years and years of pain!).

    The Retreat

    So now you have an understanding of how to meditate, and have an intellectual understanding of impermanence and why it’s useful to practice it. Great! You’ve made the first step! However, an intellectual understanding can only take you so far. I could write for pages and pages about how beautiful a sunset can be, but until you actually see one, you will not understand what it is like to expérience a sunset. Meditation is the exact same way. And the best way to actually experience impermanence is to dive headfirst into a meditation retreat.

    So, for those of you that started off reading this and thinking “Wow a 10-day meditation retreat sounds like an awesome challenge!” then go do it. Sign up for it at dhamma.org and challenge yourself to do it. Now get ready for your mind to be blown. The retreat, in all of its glory, is 100% free. You can donate at the end if you are able to, but there is no pressure. People believe so strongly in the benefits of this meditation and these retreats, that they are completely free!

    For those of you that still think I’m crazy, but now have an understanding of the value of meditation, then I have done my job. Begin practicing your new understanding of how to meditate. Do this everyday, even if just for a few minutes. A few minutes of meditation a day is a great start. 3-5 minutes a day is all you need. Then, read this article again in 6 months, and maybe the aversion to the retreat will be less strong. Read it again in a year, and you may find yourself actually considering the retreat. How do I know this? Because that’s the exact same process I went through. After hearing about the retreat it took me two years before I felt comfortable enough to sign up. And that’s okay – I would not have been ready for it right away. So take your time and consider what this retreat could mean to you.

    Finally, I want to be clear about one thing: the benefit of spending 10 days in silence stretches far beyond learning how to meditate. When spending that much time with yourself, your brain sends you messages and memories that you may not have been aware of previously. For me, some painful memories of childhood (some things I’m not terribly proud of doing) kept replaying in my head. I quickly realized that I still have not forgiven myself for these things. In that way I continue to punish myself by thinking that something that happened in the past defines me now. But if I fully understand and grasp impermanence, then I must recognize that I am quite literally an entirely different person (down to the cellular level) than I was before. And on the deepest level, it gives me peace to know that while I have made mistakes in the past, I have 100% agency over not repeating those mistakes because I am a new person.

    I am proud to say that through this process I moved closer to the full forgiveness of myself, and am able to live more presently and focused on this moment. It’s a difficult task, and one that I will continually practice, but it’s the most rewarding thing I can do with my life.

    Cheers everybody - to Impermanence!
    Barb M., Shirley, clairem and 6 others like this.
  2. Ryan

    Ryan Well known member

    Great write up I may have to try that retreat!
  3. Alan Gordon LCSW

    Alan Gordon LCSW TMS Therapist

    The TMS community is lucky to have you, Daniel Lyman.
    Forest likes this.
  4. Cap'n Spanky

    Cap'n Spanky Well known member

    Here, here! Great post!
    Ellen likes this.
  5. North Star

    North Star Beloved Grand Eagle

    Awesomeness. I dream of a few hours of silence even. 10 days sounds like bliss to this mama's monkey mind.

    And yes, what Alan said. We are really lucky to have you here. Thank you so much.
  6. Sandrine

    Sandrine New Member

    Thank you very much for this inspiring post!
  7. chickenbone

    chickenbone Well known member

    This is a very interesting post. I really can appreciate the wonderful effects of meditation and how refreshed I often feel afterward. When I am able to do it successfully, I feel like a "new me", like all of my tapes have been wiped out. At least for awhile, until the next mini-crisis. However, getting into a true meditative state can be very difficult and often when I resist meditating, this is why. There is a huge difference between meditating and thinking. Often when I try to meditate, I end up, after about 10 minutes, realizing that what I really have been doing is actually thinking and start over, sometimes multiple times, often giving up. While meditating, we need to give up all identification with our thoughts as well as not letting thoughts that float by take us somewhere. Also, having an emotional reaction to or commenting on a thought is really not meditating either. Unfortunately, I am not able to meditate as successfully as I would like. I guess I need a lot more practice.
  8. yb44

    yb44 Beloved Grand Eagle

    I've twice attended a day of silent meditation. I found that a challenge so well done for staying the course, Daniel.
  9. Andy Bayliss

    Andy Bayliss TMS Coach & Beloved Grand Eagle

    Hi Chickenbone,
    I wonder if you would enjoy meditation more if you didn't hold such high standards. I find even if I've been thinking away like crazy during my "sit," that I still have some noticeable relaxation response. My experience is that I am almost always acting out on myself some neurotic mental patterns: worry, aversion, attachment, rejection, self-rejection...and that they don't go away very much. How meditation sometimes helps me is that it builds a tolerance for this, rather than a self-rejection about my personality mind-spin. I can take my "crazy" with more light-heartedness. It seems more OK to be a crazy human being. Strange?

    Your thoughts?

    Andy B
    Cap'n Spanky likes this.
  10. chickenbone

    chickenbone Well known member

    Hi Andy, Yes, I agree. At times, when my mind just won't settle down to meditate and there are those times, I do better to go and exercise. At other times, perhaps when I am more tired, I seem to be able to meditate. It just depends. The thing that I find most annoying is when I sit down to meditate and get completely taken over by a painful memory reminding me why I never had a good relationship with my sister. Then, I end up feeling beat up emotionally instead of refreshed, just the opposite of what was intended.

    I have actually identified a part of my mind that will always take. the opportunity to punish me with feelings of remorse, sadness and guilt. I need to be attentive to this. This part of my mind is not repression, I have experienced the emotions associated with it many, many times. It just has a different opinion on things that I do. I can't make it go away, it will always be with me. BUT, I don't have to do what it says. I am convinced that this is the part of my mind that produces my pain and all the despair and fear surrounding it. That part of my mind loves to get in touch with false emotion. The fact is that I did not have a close relationship with my sister is because I did not especially like her and she felt the same about me. So this part of my mind clings to the idea that our relationship should have been close and does not want to accept otherwise.

    But I do believe that the purpose of meditation is to get away from our constant, annoying thought process and experience expanded consciousness outside the realm of thought. When we can experience this deeper reality, we realize how petty and inconsequential the world of our thoughts really is.
    yb44 and Ellen like this.
  11. honeybear424

    honeybear424 Well known member

    Yep, Chickenbone. You hit the nail on the head. Meditation is just that...a practice. I began a meditation practice 3 1/2 years ago and have committed faithfully to it by continuing to simply "show up" every morning. I started with 5 and worked my way up to 30 minutes. One of the things I have lacked for most of my life is self-compassion, and so this is a huge benefit I am gaining with my practice. When I am sitting in stillness, and my mind wanders (which it inevitably does), I gently bring myself back to my breath. I can honestly say that I am never harsh or judgmental of myself during my meditations, and I never have been. It's about letting it be whatever it turns out to be and accepting myself just as I am.
    Cap'n Spanky and Laughalot like this.
  12. Andy Bayliss

    Andy Bayliss TMS Coach & Beloved Grand Eagle

    How Sweet it IS!
  13. Barb M.

    Barb M. Peer Supporter

    Do you have any thoughts on posture when you're in pain? The traditional instructions say to sit up straight, etc. but sitting is not comfortable for me.
  14. Lizzy

    Lizzy Well known member

    I am soo not an expert, but can you lay on your back with knees bent? Arms to the side or resting on abs. I find I am at ease in this position. I am comfortable with my legs straight, but my back is rarely my issue.
  15. Laughalot

    Laughalot Peer Supporter


    I realize this is a very late response, but better late than never, eh!?

    Have you heard of Alexander Technique? This is another form of body awareness similar to Vipasanna meditation and it's primary form is the semi-supine position. I found during a particularly stressful time in my life that sitting practice felt impossible. Instead, I would lie in semi-supine and practice feeling into the position, usually right before bed. The website I linked to gives directions for how to practice Alexander Technique while in the pose. It's very similar to Mindfulness Meditation: feel yourself relaxing into the position. My teacher suggested feeling my back and feet going into the ground/floor. My knees projecting out into the far wall, my head projecting back into the wall behind me. This is just a taster, if you find that you enjoy this form of body mindfulness, I'd recommend looking for an Alexander Technique instructor in your area.
    Lizzy likes this.
  16. Cap'n Spanky

    Cap'n Spanky Well known member

    I'm not an expert either. I've only been really getting into mindfulness meditation for a couple of months now.

    I decided not to worry about my position. I just find a comfortable way to sit (or lay) and meditate. I know there are some who are very strict about the position, but I'm not convinced (so far) that it's that it's a big deal. The main thing is you don't want to fall asleep.
    Lizzy likes this.
  17. Daniel G Lyman LCSW

    Daniel G Lyman LCSW TMS Therapist

    In general, don't worry about positioning. Early on - it doesn't matter. Eventually you can work towards a position that challenges you a bit, but if you're just learning how to be mindful, don't stress about what position you're in. That said, if you choose to lay down, don't let yourself fall asleep. Sleeping is great, of course, but not beneficial in training your brain.
    Forest likes this.
  18. re LYING DOWN MEDITATION: the way I was instructed to do it is, yes, on back with knees up, and: hold up 1 or 2 hands, like you're raising your hand in a school class. It makes you stay awake and focused; if you fall asleep, as you may, your hand and arm falls on you and wakes you up. I did a 10 day retreat like this. It was very difficult and life changing. The really tricky part was the integration, the aftermath.

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