What do we most long for when we hurt? We desperately long for a way to decrease our suffering during painful moments in our lives. Mindfulness guides us to skillfully respond to pain when it arises. Our unconscious, conditioned, culturally accepted way of approaching pain is to resist it. Ironically, resisting pain often leads to destructive behaviors and actions which only furthers suffering. If we aren't rooted in presence during painful moments, it's as though the emotions are guiding the ship and we are passengers along for the ride.
When we experience anger, there is an opportunity to be deeply present and allow the anger to be experienced without judgement. We do this by deliberately opening up to what is present and granting life in these moments, to be as it is. During these times, the mind will want to create a story, often centered around what isn't fair or right. If the thoughts and stories of the mind are followed and believed, the trance of anger is perpetuated. Instead, if we simply notice and observe the experience of anger ebbing and flowing, giving it permission to be there, making room for the thoughts and sensations, the grip of this painful state loosens. If we can separate the thoughts and sensations through contact with our essential self (the part of our consciousness that can observe ourselves from a third party perspective) we are able to stay grounded in the deepest truth of who we are. Being in the position of the observer instead of the thinker, allows us to not "buy in" to everything the mind is telling us. While observing painful experiences, it is important to offer compassion and kindness to the pain. Investigate if there is an energy of resistance present, and if so, release it through cultivating an attitude of acceptance.
Why does resisting make us feel worse? Because it is trying to control the uncontrollable. The pain is there anyway, we can't turn it on and off although it's completely understandable why we would want that. When we resist, we are trying to turn it off and it won't turn off, so we become more frustrated which only amplifies the pain. Loosening up our relationship with the pain by offering it space to ebb and flow, prevents us from fanning the flames of pain by trying to control that which we can't. In this way, it is the relationship to the pain that we have a choice about through the way we interpret and relate to its presence.
We may be unaware of the tendency to try to fix or change the pain that is present, which paradoxically only creates more pain. We begin to interpret the cause, meaning, and timeline of the pain (how long it will last), which leads to contraction against pain. Our minds want to problem solve, extrapolate, and interpret what the pain means, and we even begin evaluating the quality of our lives through this lens of momentary suffering---it's no wonder thinking is not the way out!
So, the next time emotional or physical pain is present, take some full deep breaths, literally and figuratively. These breaths and pauses, are about giving pain permission to be present as it is. You remind yourself that you are not alone or wrong because pain is present. Life is not wrong because pain is present, in fact pain is one of the greatest teachers of our lives. Pain is universal, it is part of our shared human experience on this earth. Say "yes" to the moment without struggle, give yourself patience and compassion. Do not judge yourself or your pain. Do not add on stories, beliefs, or thoughts. Notice the sensations and thoughts of pain with kindness and openness. Become aware of your body and your breathing to anchor you in the present and keep you aligned with your deepest self. Remind yourself that pain doesn't last forever, indeed you have had other painful moments and this shall pass just as the ones before.
Justin D. Less, LICSW