​How Can I Distinguish Between Physical Pain and My Attitude Towards It?

May 18, 2020

QUESTION

Dear Robina,

Firstly just to remind you of our meeting. It was back a few years ago at the Buddhist center near where I live. We talked about my constant pain. I’ve been watching your talks on Youtube and decided to email you with a couple of questions.

I’ve been in total misery over the years since, and despite all my searching am only just understanding that we aren’t the person. Though I can accept this, so far it hasn’t alleviated my suffering – I’ve listened to Eckhart Tolle, Mooji, plus loads of others. 

Hard as it is for me to accept, I appreciate that it all comes from the mind. I had booked in to do a Vipassana retreat but it was cancelled due to the virus. So I’ve taken it on myself to do the meditations each day (one hour morning and one night), which I find just so tedious – yes I know I’ve just got to work for my liberation! I also listen to one of the course lessons in bed each evening. So it would appear that each bodily sensation is a result of past thoughts and the only way to remove them at root level is to keep doing the meditations remaining both equanimous and aware when coming across them (the sensations)

The reason I find it difficult to accept that it stems from mind is because I find it very hard to handle strong lights and glare. Dull days are particularly difficult. So I’m obviously projecting? Is that correct? So because I believe that I am my body and attached to it, this is where the problem lies?  

I haven’t had a night’s sleep without medication for years now and keep trying to wean off but end up not sleeping like last night and being totally miserable all day. Initially I couldn’t sleep because of pain but that isn’t what keeps me awake now. Just wish I knew what it was.

I’m old now and for goodness sake I’ve left my run ever so late and talk about losing all my self esteem!! If only I could do it all again. One thing I do know is that until you are ready none of the teachings make that much sense. 
I was listening to you talking about karma today. I keep thinking that all this is obviously my past karma as I was no angel in my younger years. 

If you get to the end of this note please accept my love and appreciation for all the work you do. I understand now, thought too late, that the only thing really worth doing is helping others. Maybe next time around for me!

A huge hug and warmest wishes, 
H.

ANSWER

I’m truly delighted to hear from you, dearest H! 

I remember our conversation well, me thinking how brave you are living with pain. I’ve thought of you often since then.

Sweetheart, it’s not so much that our pain, our pleasures, come from the mind — they are real physical experiences! — but that our pleasure and our pain are exaggerated and distorted and made bigger by the way we perceive them.

Which implies that we can change our perception of things. That’s the essence of Buddha’s practice. It’s a tricky thing to get right! 

When it comes to pleasurable feelings, let’s say, a person with lots of attachment to food will grasp really strongly at the pleasure they experience when they eat the cake and really exaggerate the pleasure. 

There are two things going on. 1. The actual sensory pleasure and 2. The interpretation of it, which is our perception of it. 

When it comes to painful feelings it’s the same. 1. There’s the actual physical pain and 2. the interpretation of it.

What we find very hard to see is that by gradually changing our interpretation of the experiences, we change the very way we experience the pain, the pleasure.

Of course it’s difficult! It’s the most difficult job! But that’s the essence of the approach that Buddhism takes: that our experiences are filtered through our interpretation of them.

You can see this in some people who, let’s say, have a lot of anger. When they are sick or have pain, they suffer so much more than someone with less anger. They think it’s the pain that makes them suffer; yes, of course. But the main suffering is from their anger — why is this happening to me? I don’t deserve it. Constanly thinking the pain shouldn’t be there. Constantly waiting for the pain to go away. Constantly thinking about it. Constantly miserable. And never realising that they can change their interpretation of the pain, that they can work on their angry interpretation.

We are all like this, to one degree or another! It’s natural!

It’s so hard to change, though. We all know that.

Meanwhile, dearest H, use whatever tools you have. And take your medication, it’s okay: whatever helps.

And try to rejoice in your goodness, your efforts to be a better person, to help others. Wonderful!

Much, much love to you,
Robina

QUESTION

Oh Robina, what a thrill to have a response from you!

Yes I do get what you are saying – I guess I tend to look at the worst scenario instead of counting my blessings, which are enormous. 

Though at first I wouldn’t admit that I carry anger, on reading your comments I’d have to claim that I do get angry that this has happened to “me.” Sure I can look at heaps of others who are is worse situations – I understand this – but it doesn’t alleviate this little ME’s pain. 

Doing the Vipassana morning and night for four weeks now I can see how things change all the time. If I share my true thoughts with you though I’ve been wondering whether scanning one’s body up and down constantly is the only way to go. I got so distressed last week trying to keep concentrated on breath that I stopped doing it and now carry guilt. My mind keeps telling me that this practice was good for people years ago but minds have changed now and need something more stimulating like constant monitoring of feelings and thoughts as you go through the day. 

I’m going to watch myself more closely and observe my feelings and, as you say, don’t give them too much meaning. I’m such a know-all but really know nothing. Should be putting my efforts into knowing the NO THING.

I’ve been listening to a lot about breathing – mainly because I get breathless as one lung is wasted due to polio – and learnt that breathing with mouth closed is the best way to go, especially if you have blocked nose. I became aware that I always kept my mouth open thinking that getting more air in that way helped, but it is the opposite. Only mentioning this because I read where you had a problem with nose.

Some Irish guy who suffered with asthma for 25 years and was on all sorts of medication tried the Buteyko method of breathing and cured himself in a week doing breathing exercises but always with mouth closed. He now teaches with such enthusiasm and is off all medication.

May you continue to enjoy each day and keep in good health.

A huge hug,
H

PS. You sure have a fab memory if your remembered me. Phew!!! Though you do say that every thought, etc. is recorded deep inside of us.

 

ANSWER
You’re great, H! 

Keep moving, dearest one. Choose the practices that work – and leave the ones you don’t like. You’re the boss.

And don’t forget to take your medication. Use whatever tools you have.

Yes, I’ve read about the Buteyko method: most interesting.

Much love,
Robina

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