Meditating with Pain
By Tergar Meditation Community • 3 min read
Hearing the phrase “pain meditation” might not make you think, “Sounds fun, where do I sign up?” However, those folks who already experience some physical pain as they go through life (read: pretty much everyone who lives in a human body) may be intrigued to know that there’s a meditation technique to work with pain. And while it’s probably not going to qualify as most people’s favorite practice, it is worth learning.
The key to using pain to support your practice is to appreciate the fact that it commands your attention. The trick is to stay aware of your mind. Usually, we see pain as something happening outside of the mind, something we need to get rid of. As you’ve probably noticed by now, though, meeting pain with resistance doesn’t make you feel better; it just piles on the suffering. When we’re sick or in pain, most of us do resist it . . . and usually we feel some self-pity, too. The little voice inside wonders, “Why me?” However, it’s important to know that this little voice isn’t coming from the actual, physical pain in your body. It’s coming from your mind. Naturally, we want to heal and get better. But trying to fight something that is within our mind doesn’t actually create the conditions for healing.
Bringing awareness to our bodies tends to focus on sensations in general. But for pain meditation, you need an unpleasant sensation to work with. If you’ve got one going on now, you’re in luck! If you don’t, you can firmly pinch the web of skin between your thumb and index finger. It’s an acupuncture point, and while pressing it hurts a bit, it’s beneficial to other parts of the body, too. Note that if you’re pregnant or have just eaten a big meal, it’s better to pinch somewhere else.
“Here’s the curious, counterintuitive aspect about pain: When we meet pain with resistance, the pain does not diminish. Instead we add suffering to the pain.”
– Mingyur Rinpoche –
Start by finding your meditation posture. Rest in open awareness. Then, bring your attention to the pain in your body. If you don’t have any, pinch yourself now, but don’t try for a sharp pain — you want to start with something very minor. Relax and rest your mind as it is. Now, simply watch the pain. That’s it.
Typically, when you watch pain, you’ll have one of four experiences. One is that as soon as you focus on the pain, it dissolves. The mind loses focus, and there is some kind of gap there. So you stay with the gap, you stay with no pain. Jackpot! Or, the pain may shift around from one part of the body to the other. That’s excellent, as the pain has become the object of your meditation. Or perhaps the pain just stays right where it is. That’s good too, because watching it transforms it into a support for your meditation. Finally, the pain might become more intense, or seem overwhelming.
If you have that last type of experience, and the pain gets more intense, change the focus. Meditate on sound, watch your breath, or use an object in your visual field. Afterwards, refrain from meditating on pain for a while. Once you’ve had some time to regroup, you can gradually return to it.
When you can use pain as a support for meditation, that means it has become your friend. By practicing in increments, eventually you can make friends even with chronic pain. Eventually — but not at the beginning. As in all practice, we have to take one step at a time.
Learn meditation under the skillful guidance of world-renowned teacher Yongey Mingyur Rinpoche at your own pace.
In this video, Mingyur Rinpoche guides us in a short meditation and briefly outlines four prospective experiences we may have when practicing pain meditation.
Tergar Meditation Community supports individuals, practice groups, and meditation communities around the world in learning to live with awareness, compassion, and wisdom. Grounded in the Tibetan Buddhist lineage of our guiding teacher, Yongey Mingyur Rinpoche, our online and in-person programs are accessible to people of all cultures and faiths, and support a lifelong path toward the application of these principles in everyday life.