Dealing with pain


How we interpret our experience helps to define the experience.

I had quite an amazing experience the other day when I was meditating. I’ll preface it by saying that allergy season hit hard last week in NYC. It came suddenly and I believe the pollen count reached a record high. It floored me. It does so every year, but this year has been especially bad.

A few days ago, in the midst of my allergic haze, I sat down to meditate. I felt nauseous. I hate feeling nauseous. Who doesn’t? I started meditating and all of these thoughts came flooding to my head: “Do I need to go to a doctor? I don’t want to take an antibiotic. Is it allergies or a cold? Why am I nauseous? Does it have anything to do with the aged hummus that I ate last night? Do I have food poisoning?”

You get the picture. I was flooded with thoughts and feelings in reaction to my nausea. I reached a point where I became aware that I was swimming in this sea of neurotic panic and began to observe the thoughts and allow myself to feel the nausea for as long as it needed to be there.

This is where the amazing part comes in. Literally a few minutes after I started to do this, the nausea started subsiding. This led to more thoughts: “Is it going to come back? What’s going on? Am I a hysteric?”

But I kept returning to my breath and observing and the nausea was completely gone by the time I finished my meditation. I was literally making myself sick.

We do this all of the time without realizing it. The Buddha encapsulated our capacity for enhancing our suffering in the parable of the two arrows. The first arrow is the initial physiological sensation, which alone would be noticeable, but bearable. The second arrow is all of the reactions, thoughts and feelings in response to the first arrow. The two arrows together produce the suffering.

It is certainly very challenging to just let it be when we feel psychological or physiological pain, but the bottom line is that when we attach to it by thinking about it and wishing it away, it only serves to stoke the fire.

Try it out for yourself the next time you are in pain. Take a few minutes to breathe and recognize and allow the sensation to be there without doing anything about it and see what happens. It’s worth experimenting with. It certainly was for me!

By David B Younger, PhD, CGP, PC

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This article was originally published at David B. Younger . Reprinted with permission from the author.