“Find a place inside where there’s joy, and the joy will burn out the pain.” – Joseph Campbell
It’s never easy to deal with pain. It doesn’t matter whether the pain is physical or emotional, what you feel is real. It hurts. You want it to stop. You try everything you can to get some relief. Sometimes your efforts pay off, while other times, they don’t. How can you effectively deal with pain so that you can have a little peace? Interestingly, according to some pain experts, much relief comes from psychological origins.
This sounds a lot like mind over matter and, in a way, it is. While it’s hard to imagine that getting your mind to a place where you don’t feel pain is possible, medical doctors and psychiatrists and other mental health practitioners, as well as meditation experts say it’s true. You can engage in mindful meditation, yoga, deep breathing exercises, prayer and other practices that can help you short-circuit the pain — at least for a while.
Looking at the Joseph Campbell quote about finding the joy inside and allowing that to ease your pain is a wonderful way of looking at meditation. Consider how this might play out in everyday life with this example.
Dealing with mounting stress and a confluence of negative events
You’ve had an incredibly stressful day. Things didn’t go well at work and you’re behind on a critical project. You didn’t have time to stop at the grocery store and the refrigerator is bare. There’s nothing for dinner. You’ve got a raging headache and the kids are fighting the minute you open the door. Not only that but your back is acting up again from an old injury. You just want to crawl into bed and pull the covers over your face to try to block everything out. What can you do?
While it’s next to impossible to find any moments of peace with a busy household, if it’s at all possible, ask your spouse, partner, friend or neighbor to take over duties for a short while so you can do something proactive to deal with your pain.
- Find a place that’s quiet — go for a walk, take a relaxing bath, sit in church or a spot in your garden.
- Close your eyes.
- Center in on some joyful memory or place.
- Put yourself there and fully feel and experience what you see, hear and the emotions you feel.
- Breathe in and out deeply.
- Hold this feeling of joy and allow it to spread throughout your body.
- Feel your pain dissipating as you relax and let go of all the toxic stress that’s built up.
- Remain in this meditative state for at least 10-15 minutes.
Will this work the first time out? Probably not to the extent that you want, but with practice you will be able to mitigate the pain — emotional and/or physical — and find some surcease of the torment. After meditating (or praying, finding solace in nature, etc.) you can return to your duties and responsibilities feeling refreshed and rejuvenated. Another way to look at it is that everybody needs a little me-time and this is an excellent way to do just that.
Dealing with emotional and chronic pain
What about unrelenting emotional pain or devastating chronic pain? Can meditation somehow help? Again, the ancient practice offers the promise of solace in this instance as well. Mindfulness meditation, one of the many forms of meditation, helps by bringing awareness to what we’re feeling and to the overall state of our body, mind and heart. As Jon Kabbat Zinn says, “Awareness transforms emotional pain just as it transforms the pain that we attribute more to the domain of body sensations.”
In fact, mindfulness meditation has been shown modulate pain to the point where there is no pain – even when feeling the same amount of pain. The practitioners in this study used a form of mindfulness meditation known as Shamatha or focused attention.
Other ways to deal with pain
Of course, meditation isn’t the only way to deal with pain. Some suggestions of the best ways to counteract or cope with pain include:
- Waiting it out. Since much pain only lasts a short amount of time, hang in there and get through it.
- Put distraction to good use. Getting your mind off the pain will not only help you cope, it may be enough to get you past the pain you feel.
- Check out pain support groups. Who better to understand pain than others who’ve experienced it or are still feeling pain? This form of networking shows you that you’re not alone and offers the type of support and encouragement pain sufferers often need and welcome.
- Make it a point to employ other remedies. There are many ways to mitigate pain, including deep breathing, yoga, exercise, eliminating alcohol and drugs from your life, engaging in biofeedback, taking walks in nature, prayer, pursuing a hobby you enjoy.
Adopting a hopeful mindset
With all the various techniques and methods to deal with pain, perhaps nothing is more important than attitude. Here’s where adopting a hopeful mindset can make an enormous difference. Instead of wallowing in pain, constantly thinking about pain, feeling anxiety and depression about it, embrace hope. It is possible to find your way through pain, to help lessen its effects and reclaim your ability to enjoy life. Even if there are some tradeoffs that must be made, life is precious. You deserve every opportunity to enjoy it to the fullest. To the extent that you cultivate hope, the more successful in this endeavor you’re likely to be.