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How Do I Find Peace When I Have Physical Pain?

Can you have peace alongside physical pain? Vidyamala shares lessons from 45 years of living with a spinal injury.

Hi there it's Vidyamala here. And I've been asked to answer the question, how do I find inner peace when my body is in physical pain? Well, this is a question and an answer that's incredibly dear to my heart. You might know that I've lived with chronic pain for 45 years now after spinal injuries in my teens. And a lot of my mindfulness journey, my mindfulness practice, my kindness practice has been exploring this very question, in a sense, how can I free my mind, how can I free my heart, even though my body is hurting? So I'm really happy to share a few tips with you today. And the main thing I want to share is a model that lies at the heart of all the work that I do in this arena, and that's dividing our experience of pain into what we call a primary and secondary suffering.

And as you'll hopefully get to see during the course of this answer, that this can indeed be a doorway to greater inner peace, even when the body is hurting. Put very simply, the primary suffering is the unpleasant sensations in the body in any given moment when we're living with pain. The secondary suffering is all the extra suffering that arises when we resist and resent those unpleasant sensations. And of course what we call pain is a kind of massive suffering that's a combination of the actual sensations, plus the resistance, plus all the secondary reactions, the secondary suffering. And the very optimistic message here is that we can learn to let go of a lot of that secondary suffering, soften resistance and then the only thing we're dealing with in any moment is the basic unpleasant sensations.

In my own experience, the unpleasant sensations in and of themselves, yeah, they're painful. I'm not denying that, but actually it's all the resistance and the secondary suffering that's much more difficult to live with. And is in my own experience and the many people that I teach, it's the secondary suffering that's the cause of most distress. So let's unpack this a bit more now, maybe I'll do this based on my own experience in this moment, as I'm talking to you, that might be helpful. So if I tune into my body, I've got unpleasant sensations in my lower back.

A kind of burning feeling, an ache. It's pretty intense at the moment. And then I've got neuropathic pain down my legs. So I've got nerve pain, tingling, buzzing, burning in my legs and in my feet. And yes, these are unpleasant, but they're definitely bearable in this moment.

You know, I can be here talking to you alongside those uncomfortable sensations. Now, if I wasn't aware, what I would do is I would automatically contract against those sensations. I'd resist them. I'd resent them. I'd think it wasn't fair.

I might even panic. Here I am doing this recording, I've got this pain. I can't do it. It's too difficult. It's too much.

Um, get into a kind of despondent state. And then what happens is you get all the secondary suffering. And as soon as I start to panic and think I can't do it, I hold my breath. So I've got the unpleasant sensations plus breath holding, which leads to more physical tension. So then I've got unpleasant sensations, plus breath holding plus tension in the body.

I might get a kind of tension in my belly. I might get tension to my jaw. My face might get tight. My hands might start to clench. And then my experience of pain will immediately escalate.

Mentally, I might catastrophize. Emotionally, it might be anxiety, fear, depression, all these kinds of things. Now the secondary suffering is completely understandable. It's what we automatically do as human beings when they're not aware. So there's no judgment.

But as your may be getting a sense of, as I sit here, I could have unpleasant sensations plus resistance plus catastrophizing plus panic, plus breath holding plus physical tension. And that's actually very intense, very unpleasant and hard to live with. But what I've learned with mindfulness is that I can turn towards my actual experience, come closer as it were, soften breathing. That's always a fantastic place to start. Just let the out-breath go all the way out of the body.

Let my body settle into the chair, rest in gravity, let go of the tension. Come closer to what is actually happening right now. And what's actually happening right now is I'm sitting here talking to you with unpleasant sensations in my lower back. Full stop. So I can, if you like, using mindfulness, prevent the arising of out of control mental states, I can get some mastery over my mind.

So rather than my thoughts spilling out of control, I can just stay with my direct experience in the body with the breath. Here I am talking to you. There's no need for panic. It's fine. I'm enjoying it.

It's bearable. Yes, my pain is there. It's important that I keep that in my awareness, because if I suppress it, push against it, straight away, I've got tension again. So yes, the pain is there, but all the secondary stuff has pretty much faded away. My mind is feeling present, my emotions are feeling quite settled, my breathing is settled, and here I am recording this talk.

Sp what I've hopefully demonstrated is how mindfulness can help us accept the primary, accept the basic experience of pain in the body. Soften resistance, soften resentment. And then the secondary suffering doesn't escalate. It doesn't keep building and even get out of control. And of course, that's a moment by moment experience because just because in this moment I'm managing to be with it quite well.

And I feel quite soft and present. And the next moment I might notice a bit of breath holding coming in so then I release that again. So it's a fluid, dynamic practice. It's not a once and for all static thing of, I've let go of resistance forever, I'll never have secondary suffering again. Of course I will.

But I can just keep coming back to the body, back to my basic experience and settling. And of course, that is a moment of inner peace, relatively speaking. It's amazing to be able to free all that secondary suffering, even for just a moment. And I do experience that as a moment of inner peace. And I think that's an optimistic message that even when the body is hurting, we can walk through this door way to inner peace through softening resistance.

So I hope you found that helpful and encouraging in your own life. We can all do it at any moment. We just need to stop, rest, breathe out, settle, and become aware of resistance is present, breathe into it, to release on the out-breath. And we do that moment by moment by moment. And as I say, it's not a permanent fixed state.

We have to keep on revisiting that all the time. But our default setting can gradually change from one of habitual contraction to one that's a little bit more easeful and present and calm. Thanks so much for listening to this answer to a really great question. Can I have in a piece, even if I've got physical pain in the body? And I really hope you found that helpful. And gosh, I really do wish you all the very best.

It's a very courageous practice to come closer to our experience and to train the mind, train the heart, release the body. It's, it's kind of ironic because it can seem soft, which it is. It's definitely a softening of contraction and resistance, but it's also a warrior practice. It's a practice of huge courage, huge strength. And every moment you manage to soften resistance and be with what is.

You are being a warrior with a soft heart. And that's a wonderful, wonderful thing for you, for the people you come in contact with and for the world at large. So please remember kindness, please remember patients and celebrate your moments of victory when they arise. And I wish you all the very, very best. Thanks for listening.

Talk

4.7

How Do I Find Peace When I Have Physical Pain?

Can you have peace alongside physical pain? Vidyamala shares lessons from 45 years of living with a spinal injury.

Duration

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

Hi there it's Vidyamala here. And I've been asked to answer the question, how do I find inner peace when my body is in physical pain? Well, this is a question and an answer that's incredibly dear to my heart. You might know that I've lived with chronic pain for 45 years now after spinal injuries in my teens. And a lot of my mindfulness journey, my mindfulness practice, my kindness practice has been exploring this very question, in a sense, how can I free my mind, how can I free my heart, even though my body is hurting? So I'm really happy to share a few tips with you today. And the main thing I want to share is a model that lies at the heart of all the work that I do in this arena, and that's dividing our experience of pain into what we call a primary and secondary suffering.

And as you'll hopefully get to see during the course of this answer, that this can indeed be a doorway to greater inner peace, even when the body is hurting. Put very simply, the primary suffering is the unpleasant sensations in the body in any given moment when we're living with pain. The secondary suffering is all the extra suffering that arises when we resist and resent those unpleasant sensations. And of course what we call pain is a kind of massive suffering that's a combination of the actual sensations, plus the resistance, plus all the secondary reactions, the secondary suffering. And the very optimistic message here is that we can learn to let go of a lot of that secondary suffering, soften resistance and then the only thing we're dealing with in any moment is the basic unpleasant sensations.

In my own experience, the unpleasant sensations in and of themselves, yeah, they're painful. I'm not denying that, but actually it's all the resistance and the secondary suffering that's much more difficult to live with. And is in my own experience and the many people that I teach, it's the secondary suffering that's the cause of most distress. So let's unpack this a bit more now, maybe I'll do this based on my own experience in this moment, as I'm talking to you, that might be helpful. So if I tune into my body, I've got unpleasant sensations in my lower back.

A kind of burning feeling, an ache. It's pretty intense at the moment. And then I've got neuropathic pain down my legs. So I've got nerve pain, tingling, buzzing, burning in my legs and in my feet. And yes, these are unpleasant, but they're definitely bearable in this moment.

You know, I can be here talking to you alongside those uncomfortable sensations. Now, if I wasn't aware, what I would do is I would automatically contract against those sensations. I'd resist them. I'd resent them. I'd think it wasn't fair.

I might even panic. Here I am doing this recording, I've got this pain. I can't do it. It's too difficult. It's too much.

Um, get into a kind of despondent state. And then what happens is you get all the secondary suffering. And as soon as I start to panic and think I can't do it, I hold my breath. So I've got the unpleasant sensations plus breath holding, which leads to more physical tension. So then I've got unpleasant sensations, plus breath holding plus tension in the body.

I might get a kind of tension in my belly. I might get tension to my jaw. My face might get tight. My hands might start to clench. And then my experience of pain will immediately escalate.

Mentally, I might catastrophize. Emotionally, it might be anxiety, fear, depression, all these kinds of things. Now the secondary suffering is completely understandable. It's what we automatically do as human beings when they're not aware. So there's no judgment.

But as your may be getting a sense of, as I sit here, I could have unpleasant sensations plus resistance plus catastrophizing plus panic, plus breath holding plus physical tension. And that's actually very intense, very unpleasant and hard to live with. But what I've learned with mindfulness is that I can turn towards my actual experience, come closer as it were, soften breathing. That's always a fantastic place to start. Just let the out-breath go all the way out of the body.

Let my body settle into the chair, rest in gravity, let go of the tension. Come closer to what is actually happening right now. And what's actually happening right now is I'm sitting here talking to you with unpleasant sensations in my lower back. Full stop. So I can, if you like, using mindfulness, prevent the arising of out of control mental states, I can get some mastery over my mind.

So rather than my thoughts spilling out of control, I can just stay with my direct experience in the body with the breath. Here I am talking to you. There's no need for panic. It's fine. I'm enjoying it.

It's bearable. Yes, my pain is there. It's important that I keep that in my awareness, because if I suppress it, push against it, straight away, I've got tension again. So yes, the pain is there, but all the secondary stuff has pretty much faded away. My mind is feeling present, my emotions are feeling quite settled, my breathing is settled, and here I am recording this talk.

Sp what I've hopefully demonstrated is how mindfulness can help us accept the primary, accept the basic experience of pain in the body. Soften resistance, soften resentment. And then the secondary suffering doesn't escalate. It doesn't keep building and even get out of control. And of course, that's a moment by moment experience because just because in this moment I'm managing to be with it quite well.

And I feel quite soft and present. And the next moment I might notice a bit of breath holding coming in so then I release that again. So it's a fluid, dynamic practice. It's not a once and for all static thing of, I've let go of resistance forever, I'll never have secondary suffering again. Of course I will.

But I can just keep coming back to the body, back to my basic experience and settling. And of course, that is a moment of inner peace, relatively speaking. It's amazing to be able to free all that secondary suffering, even for just a moment. And I do experience that as a moment of inner peace. And I think that's an optimistic message that even when the body is hurting, we can walk through this door way to inner peace through softening resistance.

So I hope you found that helpful and encouraging in your own life. We can all do it at any moment. We just need to stop, rest, breathe out, settle, and become aware of resistance is present, breathe into it, to release on the out-breath. And we do that moment by moment by moment. And as I say, it's not a permanent fixed state.

We have to keep on revisiting that all the time. But our default setting can gradually change from one of habitual contraction to one that's a little bit more easeful and present and calm. Thanks so much for listening to this answer to a really great question. Can I have in a piece, even if I've got physical pain in the body? And I really hope you found that helpful. And gosh, I really do wish you all the very best.

It's a very courageous practice to come closer to our experience and to train the mind, train the heart, release the body. It's, it's kind of ironic because it can seem soft, which it is. It's definitely a softening of contraction and resistance, but it's also a warrior practice. It's a practice of huge courage, huge strength. And every moment you manage to soften resistance and be with what is.

You are being a warrior with a soft heart. And that's a wonderful, wonderful thing for you, for the people you come in contact with and for the world at large. So please remember kindness, please remember patients and celebrate your moments of victory when they arise. And I wish you all the very, very best. Thanks for listening.

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4.7

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