Saturday, July 17, 2010

Mingyur Rinpoche's Meditation Cure For Pain

Day 2 with Mingyur Rinpoche.

After seven hours of sitting in unfriendly chair, my back was screaming, and ready for the master's instructions for pain meditation:
  • Don't try to get rid of the pain. This is the opposite of our normal responses which are: 1) being afraid of the pain, 2) wishing for the pain to go away; in both cases end result is more pain
  • Rather, turn pain into object of meditation, just like any other object, such as breath, or sounds. 
  • Just become aware of pain/discomfort, seeing it develop with clarity
  • Welcome it as a friend.
  • If you cannot make friend with the pain, and you notice either fear or aversion, then make fear/aversion the object of meditation - using them as support for meditation
  • Learn with small pain at first, otherwise one risks getting overwhelmed with big pain
  • With attention, pain may becomes bigger - this is not bad; Rinpoche gave the analogy of dried cow dung on a wall. When the dung is dry it does not smell. As soon as one starts to apply water on it to clean it, the smell gets released, and gets more and more intense as more water is applied. This is temporary however but a necessary step before the wall can be all clean. More pain signals purification process. 
  • If pain becomes too overwhelming, turn the attention to other objects: sounds, breath, forms, smells, etc . . . 
  • Eventually, meditation on pain heals the pain.
Eyes closed, listening to Rinpoche's voice, I met the pain in my back, and felt it spread even wider. There was dislike, for sure. Turning my attention to the aversion itself, the pain receded in the background, until it . . . well, vanished!

Pain meditation. Healing meditation. 


  1. In Buddhism, according to the Buddha, mindfulness has to be right, otherwise it is perverted mindfulness.

    But, as Buddhism is a Monastic religion, only Buddhist Monks & Nuns are therefore prepared to attain right mindfulness.

  2. Interesting, his comment that the pain may get larger at first (or more intense). I have had this experience at times, when working with pain and thought I was doing something wrong. So very helpful point! Than-you for this little gem.

    How fortunate to have a teaching with him.

  3. Panchenlama, I am not sure what you mean . . .

    Mindfulness is a gift for all to partake in. Householders and monastics alike . . . The Buddha was very clear on that one. The householder life actually present boundless opportunities for practice, particularly in the field of mindful relating with family members, work colleagues, etc. That it is easier for monastics to spend more sustained period of intense concentration, no doubt. Each path has its own set of challenges, and advantages, as far as awakening is concerned.

    My own, humble, limited, lay view :)

    With much metta.

  4. Oh, Zendot, I am so glad this was helpful to you! Mingyur shared many more wonderful teachings, on other topics besides pain, but this one was most relevant to where I was yesterday . . .

    And, yes, I loved his metaphor with the cow dung. It makes so much sense, doesn't it?

    May you be well, and at ease, today. It is always such a treat to be visited by you.

  5. I can't say I've ever noticed mindfullness making the pain worse, unless it's that jolt that comes when I face something I don't want to. Pain almost always seems to ease when I acknowledge it, and stop trying to fight and run away from it.

    The other huge thing about mindfullness is learning that even pain isn't permanent. Wait long enough, and it moves on. (Sometimes it's from the knees to the back, but hey...^-^)

  6. I run into this often Marguerite. I have chronic lower back pain that seems to surface quite often when sitting. A lot of times I sit in a chair, which seems to help. When I'm on a cushion, I definitely notice more back pain.

    I agree whole-heartedly with these instructions and this is what I learned in my MBSR course. By creating an attachment to the pain, we tend to make it worse...and it doesn't really help our mindfulness b/c we get caught up in wanting to be somewhere else (i.e. a place w/o the pain). While challenging, I am certainly trying to be mindful of the pain and really pay attention to exactly where it is, what it feels like and my thoughts toward it.

  7. Thank you Sunim! Of course, all this is easier to 'do' when the pain is not too severe. I have had times when pain was so strong, I had to distract myself from it so I could deal with it, intuitively using Rinpoche's 'small bites' approach. We all have a different tolerance threshold for pain (physical or emotional), that needs to be built up over time.

  8. Nate, with sitting, I have learned that posture, and also good chair ergonomics can make a world of difference. Particularly Esther Gokhale's stacking posture for sitting (I wrote a post about her a while back), and also getting the right kind of chair. Using a wedge or a rolled up towel to help your pelvis slightly tip forward can also make up for a bad chair.

  9. I just had an aikido student of mine tell me that after he pulled a muscle in his back doing some yard work, the only posture where he had relief was sitting in our seiza position - this accomplishes the same alignment as the towel under the pelvis.
    Wonderful discourse. Thank you for opportunity to contemplate.

  10. Thank you Judy. Simple things can sometimes make a world of difference :)

  11. The question then sometimes occurs, what is this 'pain'? Looking, I find lots of tension holding it away, and then beneath the sensation itself. But does it deserve the label of 'pain'? The label seems to carry the some meaning like; it 'should not be' or 'must be avoided', is that right?

    Such helpful thoughts, thanks for posting!

  12. That is very insightful of you! I agree the 'pain' label most often carries with it connotations of aversion and fear. More skillful is to investigate the sensation itself, and remaining open to its reality, as in for instance, hot, cold, tingling, pulsing, throbbing, intense . . . or even better not even assigning words, and sensing what is. And of course, being aware of aversion, fear, other emotions, if they are present, turning them into object of meditation.