There's No Way Out of Experiencing Pain


Image: retrostar via Dollar Photo Club

When people come to me for help, really what they want is a way out of pain. The pain of being heavier than they think they should be; the pain of being obsessed with food; the pain of 'fighting' urges; the pain of trying to change the shape of their bodies and the pain of hating themselves (which is usually directed at their bodies).

Often there is other pain too. Perhaps the pain of being single; or the pain of past trauma; the pain of bereavement; or of childlessness; the pain of being in a difficult relationship; the pain of loss, or the pain of not being who they think they are capable of being; the pain of not having what they think they deserve.

Cultural expectation of a pain free life

The media, social media and advertising in particular, promote the illusion of a pain-free life - oh, and so does modern medicine (supported by advertising).

But pain is a part of life

Our fighting with the idea of pain exacerbates it.

Our yearning for a solution to make pain go away prolongs the agony of it.

Can we really be free from it?

The bad news

No. We can't. Not permanently anyway. Everything is temporary: both the experience of pain and the experience of equanimity.

The good news

While there is no way out of experiencing pain, there is a way through it - and this mindfulness practice is a gentle, yet helpful and powerful tool.

Firstly, recognise that this is a moment of suffering. Recognise to yourself that you're experiencing pain.

Secondly, accept that pain is a part of life. It's an inevitable experience of being human. Accept that you are experiencing pain, because pushing it away will not make it go away. It may bury it - but it will still be there.

Investigate it. Get to know your pain. Allow your attention to go to where you feel the pain in your body. Where is it located? How big does it feel? Does it have a shape, texture or colour? Does it move around?

A lot of the pain we feel is unnecessary because it's caused by thoughts beneath our awareness, which go unchallenged and are mostly untrue. See if you can bring to the surface and investigate your thinking; your pain could be greatly reduced.

  • Look out for global statements like 'always,' 'never,' 'forever,' 'everyone.' It's rare that global statements are 100% true (all the time).
  • Look out for anything about the future (because you DO NOT KNOW what the future holds, even if you've had the same outcome over and over again, you DO NOT KNOW about the next minute, let alone the next hour, day, week or month.)
  • Be aware of 'should' and 'have to' statements. Those will trip you up and add to your pain.
  • Watch out for judgements - whether you're judging yourself: 'I'm a greedy pig' or judging someone else: 'she's a bitch' - if you tune in, there'll be stress/pain there. Apart from that - they are not true statements! They would only be true if they were facts, and facts are not subjective; facts are not opinions.
  • The next step is to detach from the pain - in the sense that you become unidentified. This means that you see yourself as separate from the pain and separate from the thoughts that are associated with it... it's something you're experiencing in the moment, but it is not you and you are not it. In mindfulness practice this is called non-identification.

And lastly - ask yourself how you can support your own self-care. Especially at times when you're experiencing pain - how can you take good care of yourself? What can you do to support yourself? How can you bring kindness and compassion to yourself?

RAINS is the acronym for these steps. They can be used for an uncomfortable situation or experience you're resisting, including (but not limited to) your eating behaviour! If you'd like a handy graphic to remind you of it, get it here.

The other good news

With consistent mindful meditation practice you can tip the balance so you can let go of pain more readily and return to a state of equanimity more easily.