Pain, the Attention-Getter

"Be without it," by Alan Levine, via (Creative Commons License) "Be without it," by Alan Levine, via (Creative Commons License)

Pain demands attention. And the more severe the pain, the more attention it demands.

Over the last couple of months, I have developed severe muscular and neurological paint in my neck and shoulders. It feels like a hot piece of steel going through my shoulders and neck.

Recently, I went on my annual silent meditation retreat. This was not one of my most brilliant ideas. Here is why…

The simplest definition of mindfulness meditation is simply: “observing your experience moment by moment without judgment”. Sure, easy for them to say!

So there I sat, mostly in silence observing how much f**king pain I was in. And as most people know, focusing your attention on pain makes pain worse. And so I suffered for 4 out of my 5 days.

And during one exercise, something happened in my body and I began to cry. I don’t mean we, but big sobbing. Not wanting to make this a public display, I went outside by myself and cried some more. I don’t even know what the emotion was when I was crying. It’s almost as though it was something my body needed to do. Years ago one of my radio shows was about the function of tears. One of the things I remember was that the chemistry of tears included the good deal of cortisol-the stress hormone. So when we cry like that we are literally reducing stress. Anyway, I must have reduced a lot of stress because I couldn’t stop crying.

And when I did, I realized where I was. I looked up and saw some magnificent trees surrounding me. And it was late afternoon so the light was beginning to shift and played off those trees just beautifully. It was a blue sky with a few billowing white clouds drifting by. It was then I realized that I was in a beautiful environment, that I was so very fortunate to be able to go on this retreat, that I loved and was loved by many of the people in that room. And that my significant-very significant other was in that room meditating. A woman who has endured all of my suffering with me. I felt such deep gratitude and abundance of love, then I was able to smile and feel thankful for this life I have.

And the pain? Still hurt like hell. Actually, no better. But I did learn this-pain demands attention. But there are other things to attend to also.

How do we live with pain? Maybe we do it in that order. First we live. We live feeling compassion for all who have pain. We live feeling compassion for ourselves-this good person suffers for no-fault of their own. We live our lives as fully as we can. We love others as deeply as we can. And then we try to love even more people.

The Beatles were wrong when they said “Love Is All You Need”. Personally I need steroids at the moment, warm and cold compresses and medication that will make me feel like a zombie.

But when the composer Andrew Lloyd Webber said: “Love, Love Changes Everything…” He nailed it. Perhaps love is the difference between pain we can live with and pain we cannot. And whenever we love other, it releases the same neurochemicals in the brain that make us feel good and have well-being. And love is habitual-the more you love, the more you love.

By the way, as I write this, I hurt like hell. But I felt much better when I was talking about tears and love and not just pain.


1 Comment on Pain, the Attention-Getter

  1. Have you heard of Open Focus (Les Fehmi In
    Princeton) for pain management? I have found it very
    Helpful over the years.

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