Morning Intention: Pain And Awareness

** Morning Intention: To work with physical pain by moving my awareness before I move my body

We live in a highly anesthetic culture. Some scientists are starting to suspect that our over-reliance on everything from aspirin to opioids is starting to erode our capacity for empathy. Whether they ever can prove that on a chemical level, it seems pretty clear that compassion for ourselves and others comes from being able to feel pain, and that, furthermore, if we can’t feel pain enough to understand its role as a guidance system within our human experience, our attempts at living well are going to backfire, if not turn monstrous.

Meditation is a good place to improve your relationship with pain. If you sit long enough, your body is going to experience tensions and twinges. The trick is to be able to tell the difference between the pains that are seriously calling for your attention and the ones that, like schoolyard bullies, are just trying to push you around. A good rule is to give yourself a few minutes before reacting to any pain, first to see if it goes away, but more important, to give yourself time to strengthen your powers of awareness. Ask yourself, “Where else in my body feels good right now?” and focus there. After a few minutes, if the pain is still present, shift or adjust your posture. But always move your awareness BEFORE you move your body, for that is how you develop the skills to meet sickness, aging, and death with an open heart and clear mind, without having to numb yourself to life in order to get through it.

So here’s the practice: Today, sit and focus on your breath. Notice any pains that arise and move your awareness somewhere else in the body that feels good. Eventually, you can try moving your awareness back to the pain in order to massage and soothe it with your awareness. But if you find yourself fighting the pain, retreat again. Remember: freedom from pain, in the end, is freedom of awareness, so keep your awareness flexible and strong.

Featured image by Doris Stricher

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