Friday, September 10, 2010

Pain Beyond Words

U Jotika's Freeing Perspective on Pain.

I continue to draw much inspiration from U Jotika's teachings. This morning, pain found its way inside, as it often does. Heart and body, both hurting. Full of resolve, I sat, determined to not give thinking mind much of a chance. Using breath as an anchor, I let myself sink deep into the flow of sensations, moment to moment. Sure, thoughts did come once in a while, but awareness was watching, and did not let them rule the sitting. There was hardly any reactivity to the pain, and a whole hour went by, without mind getting restless as it usually does. 
Because of our thoughts we experience something more intensely. So when we stop thinking and just become aware of it we don’t really feel anything anymore. What I mean to say is that, things don’t have intensity anymore. Even with pain, say you have pain in your knee when you are sitting and meditating; the more you react the sharper it becomes. When you stop thinking about it and just be in touch with it, without trying to do anything, not trying to overcome it, not interpreting it, just being with the pain, after a while you feel that the pain becomes vague; it is not as painful as before. Our thinking process makes the sensations stronger. When you stop thinking and just get in touch with it, it becomes so vague, that we feel that something is missing. We want to take hold of something. For example, if you have a big round ball, can you hold it with one hand? You cannot. It is a big round slippery ball. But if you put a handle on it you can grab it by the handle. The name, the tag, the interpretation is just like the handle. With the handle we grasp things very strongly, we won’t let it go but, without that handle everything is slippery, you can’t hold to it. When you stop thinking, you get in touch with it, you can’t grasp anything anymore. It becomes slippery and vague, that is the way it should be. 
. . . 
When you experience pain, as long as you can be with the pain to endure it, see how your mind reacts. This is a very important learning process. Buddha gave a very deep and profound teaching, “although my body is in pain my mind is not in pain” (~SN iii.1). This is something you should practice! We cannot really get rid of all the pain in our body. As you grow older and older you know that you have to live with pain. People have arthritis; there is no way you can run away from pain. If you take too much medicine it will destroy your liver, kidneys and many other things. If you want to take medication it is ok; that is not what I am saying. For normal pain it is not going to hurt you very much, so, try to be with the pain and see how the mind reacts. In some cases, we try to move not because the pain is unbearable but because we are restless. We move because we are not in the habit of being in touch with the pain. When you feel pain, without thinking of pain, without even using the word pain, although in the beginning you can use the word pain, but I have noticed that when you use the word pain it becomes more painful, because you are interpreting it as ‘pain’. Pain is something that you don’t like. So automatically you react to the word pain. If you stop using the word pain and just get into the pain, be with the pain, you’ll find that it is very interesting, your mind can stay there for a long time. Some of my friends, who are very scared of pain, don’t want to meditate because they think it will be very painful. Slowly and slowly they have learnt how to meditate and after a while they come in touch with the pain and stay with it, and found out that it becomes very interesting. They get absorbed in the pain. If you are willing to be with the pain, it is not so unbearable; if you are unwilling it becomes more and more unbearable. It is the way that your mind looks at experience. Whenever you feel pain, be with it, it will not kill you, actually. When you find that “this is my limit” and I can’t really go on sitting like this anymore, move very slowly, move a few millimeters and see the pain getting less, the whole experience, and the mind also. When the pain gets a little bit less your mind becomes a little bit relaxed, “Oh… It is nice now… feeling better now”, then move a little bit again; feeling better now. Move again, and then you find another position where you don’t feel pain anymore, you feel happy, you feel very relaxed and then you continue to meditate; sitting for an hour or sometimes even for two hours. 
It takes time for the mind to let go of itself. Today felt like a big breakthrough.  Being able to experience the effect of freedom from mind is like fuel for the practice. Now, I want to sit more, and longer.


  1. Inspiration and encouragement for us all Marguerite. Thank you.

  2. Thank you Wes. I now understand clearly what is meant by the simplicity of mindfulness, and at the same time the difficulty in realizing it. A shift needs to take place with mind no longer insisting on its supremacy.

  3. Thank you, Marguerite. Reading your blog post brought back memories from several years ago. It also made me wonder if I should really bother finishing my own blog. I may as well just reference your posts ;-). You write beautifully, and from the heart. My heart. It's such a pleasure to stay "here" for a while. Thanks for sharing. Much metta. And deep bow to you.

  4. Oh, thank you!

    And I would like to urge you to consider how writing in your blog can contribute to your practice, and to your life in general. I mostly write for myself, and for the pleasure of exchanging very real and personal experiences about practice. I have gotten so much wisdom from all the people who have visited this blog, and also from visiting other blogs. Writing can also be an act of clarification, of further purification of one's insights and newly acquired wisdom.

    In gratitude.

    Deep bow back :)

  5. Hello Marguerite...

    Your post moved me today... Interestingly I wrote a post on "shadow dance" which addresses emotional pain - although it was not as eloquent as your writing here, but basically saying the same thing. I know I don't fit your "requirements" for being a "real Buddhist", but it seems we all have shared pain, no matter what our beliefs, whether it is physical or emotional. We all have something in our lives that we need to dance with, to *feel* and to sit with. Your post, sharing U Jotika's writing, will help me dancing with my shadow pain... Thank you.

  6. Thank you Christine! And may you dance with your pain. What a lovely image . . .

    Sitting, dancing, it's all the same. It's about embracing all of ourselves, with great love, and patience.

    And although I may sound and write like one, I am always hesitant to take on the buddhist hat :) a student of mindfulness, and of the Buddha's teachings, yes, absolutely. A buddhist, that sounds like just another rigid layer to deal with . . .

    Thank you for gift of your appreciation.