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Primary vs. Secondary Pain

Personalized support for learning how to integrate mindfulness into your life. Delivered fresh everyday by our world renowned experts. Choose meditation duration:

Hey, welcome back to your Daily Mindfulness. Today, we're going to talk about the difference between primary pain versus secondary pain. So a while back I spent six months on a silent meditation retreat. Although six months in silence might sound like a vacation, for me, it was far from it. There was no reading, writing, listening to music or contact with the outside world.

We were sleeping only a few hours per night, eating two small meals before 11:00 AM and meditating between 14 and 18 hours per day. And the mattresses were, we were sleeping on, were so thin, you could squeeze them between your fingers and feel the bone on the other side. The austerity of the living conditions combined with the very intense meditation schedule created a sheet of pain in my back that descended from my neck to the base of my spine. It was so bad that if I were to take a deep breath, the movement in my back would exacerbate the pain and cause it to radiate around to the front of my body. Each time feeling like I was being cattle prodded in the gut.

I didn't think I could last six months like this and was seriously considering going home early. But as I was meditating, I saw something interesting. Every time the pain arose my mind would think, Ugh, this is so terrible. What's wrong with my body. Nobody else seems to be struggling as much as I am.

There's no way I'm going to be able to do this for six months. And then something else interesting happened. As soon as those thoughts would arise, they were quickly accompanied by something else. Painful emotions, doubt, anger, sadness, anxiety, despair. And then as soon as those negative emotions would arise, I could feel the physical pain getting worse.

So here I was caught in this insidious mental loop. There was physical pain, which triggered negative thoughts, which triggered painful emotions, which then made the pain worse. And although I couldn't do anything about the physical pain, which is the primary pain, I could do something about the thoughts that I was caking on top of the secondary pain. And so that's what I started to work on. I practiced just being more present with the physical pain itself.

Each time my mind would wander into thoughts and judgments about the pain, I would try to smile at it, let the thoughts go by and then returned to just being present with the pain itself. And although it wasn't easy, as soon as I stopped fueling those negative thoughts, those thoughts stopped fueling the emotions, which subsequently stopped exacerbating the pain. This was my first experience and exposure to the difference between primary pain versus secondary pain. Did the primary pain go away entirely? No, but it did reduce radically. And I saw that I could turn up or down the amount that I was suffering from it.

So what does this have to do with you? Oh, maybe you're dealing with physical pain, like chronic pain, and this might have some relevance. But even if you're not, is primary pain just exclusive to physical pain? No. Primary pain represents any sort of pain that comes up as a part of being human - a job loss, death of a loved one, a relationship breakup. These are natural and a part of the human experience. But we often get caught up in the secondary pains.

The why me, why did God do this to me, how am I going to be able to go on like this. And it's often that secondary pain that creates more suffering in our lives. So my invitation to you today is to explore where you might be creating secondary suffering, secondary pain in your life. And what would it be like to just be present with the experience itself? Thank you for your practice. I'll talk to you soon and take care.

Cory Muscara

4.6

Primary vs. Secondary Pain

Personalized support for learning how to integrate mindfulness into your life. Delivered fresh everyday by our world renowned experts. Choose meditation duration:

Duration

Your default time is based on your progress and is changed automatically as you practice.

Hey, welcome back to your Daily Mindfulness. Today, we're going to talk about the difference between primary pain versus secondary pain. So a while back I spent six months on a silent meditation retreat. Although six months in silence might sound like a vacation, for me, it was far from it. There was no reading, writing, listening to music or contact with the outside world.

We were sleeping only a few hours per night, eating two small meals before 11:00 AM and meditating between 14 and 18 hours per day. And the mattresses were, we were sleeping on, were so thin, you could squeeze them between your fingers and feel the bone on the other side. The austerity of the living conditions combined with the very intense meditation schedule created a sheet of pain in my back that descended from my neck to the base of my spine. It was so bad that if I were to take a deep breath, the movement in my back would exacerbate the pain and cause it to radiate around to the front of my body. Each time feeling like I was being cattle prodded in the gut.

I didn't think I could last six months like this and was seriously considering going home early. But as I was meditating, I saw something interesting. Every time the pain arose my mind would think, Ugh, this is so terrible. What's wrong with my body. Nobody else seems to be struggling as much as I am.

There's no way I'm going to be able to do this for six months. And then something else interesting happened. As soon as those thoughts would arise, they were quickly accompanied by something else. Painful emotions, doubt, anger, sadness, anxiety, despair. And then as soon as those negative emotions would arise, I could feel the physical pain getting worse.

So here I was caught in this insidious mental loop. There was physical pain, which triggered negative thoughts, which triggered painful emotions, which then made the pain worse. And although I couldn't do anything about the physical pain, which is the primary pain, I could do something about the thoughts that I was caking on top of the secondary pain. And so that's what I started to work on. I practiced just being more present with the physical pain itself.

Each time my mind would wander into thoughts and judgments about the pain, I would try to smile at it, let the thoughts go by and then returned to just being present with the pain itself. And although it wasn't easy, as soon as I stopped fueling those negative thoughts, those thoughts stopped fueling the emotions, which subsequently stopped exacerbating the pain. This was my first experience and exposure to the difference between primary pain versus secondary pain. Did the primary pain go away entirely? No, but it did reduce radically. And I saw that I could turn up or down the amount that I was suffering from it.

So what does this have to do with you? Oh, maybe you're dealing with physical pain, like chronic pain, and this might have some relevance. But even if you're not, is primary pain just exclusive to physical pain? No. Primary pain represents any sort of pain that comes up as a part of being human - a job loss, death of a loved one, a relationship breakup. These are natural and a part of the human experience. But we often get caught up in the secondary pains.

The why me, why did God do this to me, how am I going to be able to go on like this. And it's often that secondary pain that creates more suffering in our lives. So my invitation to you today is to explore where you might be creating secondary suffering, secondary pain in your life. And what would it be like to just be present with the experience itself? Thank you for your practice. I'll talk to you soon and take care.

Cory Muscara

4.6

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