The first form of meditation I encountered was Pain Meditation. At the time it was simply a suggestion that there was a process that could reduce my frequent lower back pain problems rather than a long lecture on the benefits of meditation. I was given the following set of instructions:
- Find a comfortable position in a chair, or if my pain was too great for sitting, lying in a bed. (I started practicing in bed.)
- Slowly bring your attention to the most painful spot on the back. This was to be a gentle process of awareness, not a process of pushing my muscles into submission. If you feel the pain is increasing during the search, back away at the same pace to reduce the pain back to its original level.
- Slowly and carefully observe the entire area of pain from the edge of the painful area to the most painful part.
- Slowly narrow your attention to the most painful point in the painful area chosen.
It took me a few weeks of random practice to be able to consistently do this. I knew I had succeeded when I reached a spot where the muscles in that area relaxed and the pain in that area dropped to nearly nothing. I immediately congratulated myself and the pain came rushing back. So, I went through the steps again, found the point of greatest pain, the muscles relaxed, I changed my focus again,. but this time the pain took a little longer to return. The first night I must have retried the process 5 or 6 times and each time the pain took longer to return, and when it returned, it was not quite as strong as during the previous cycle. Over the next three weeks I practiced this every day until I reached the point where the pain was not returning at all.
Over the next few weeks I practiced the process while sitting and then standing. During this time I became sensitive to any pain in my lower back such that as soon as I felt the slightest lower back pain, I stopped what I was doing and quickly practiced steps 2-4 which brought release of the muscles and relief from the pain. Over time I became more adept at Pain Meditation to the point where I could move through the steps in a second and my lower back pain would stop.
I extended this process to other physical pains and to emotional/psychological pain as well. Over time I learned to apply Pain Meditation to
- Migraines which for the most part i no longer have
- Depression which only bothers me infrequently now and is usually resolved through application of this process.
When applying Pain Meditation to emotional or psychological states, it took me a little longer to master than with physical pain. But with each new challenge, the process became easier and faster so that I can quickly apply Pain Meditation as necessary.
The main challenge with Pain Meditation is that the more dispersed the pain, the more difficult it is apply this approach because the “center”, or point of strongest discomfort, is less local. An example of this case is with asthma because the discomfort tends to be dispersed evenly across the lungs. In cases like this the results of applying Pain Meditation will be less pronounced.
You should practice this exercise whenever you feel the need, however, it should be based on an existing, and current, need. Do not try to force any psychological or emotional state through memory so that you can apply this exercise. That approach divides your mind in a way that isn’t healthy and not conducive to the application of Pain Meditation, a process meant to help you become whole. Whatever your current mental state, you don’t need to divide yourself by forcing it; be the one person you already are and let this arise naturally.