From time to time, I feel an uneasiness in my neck and back. When I was working as a programmer, I used to sit in my chair and code there, without moving anything other than my arms and fingers, for hours and hours. At the end of the day, I could feel a string pulling on my neck, a string of pain.
Pain is no laughing matter, we all dislike it and wish for it to reduce whenever that pain makes us suffer too much. Certain pains can stay with us for weeks, months, or even years before we act on them...why? Because we don’t suffer so much from them.
While statistics canada says that over 1.5 million people, aged between 12 and 44 years old, experienced chronic pain in 2008, I would say instead that those are only the severe cases...the cases where the person suffered enough from chronic pain to go see a doctor and use a great deal of efforts and time to reduce greatly the pain they felt.
What about others? What about people who have chronic pains but don’t act on them? What about those who suffer from chronic pain but can’t find a way to reduce it?
Everyone experiences pain one time or another, but chronic pains are quite different. They turn on and off regularly and can remain for a very long period of time, and when they do, they can cause important damage to our body...and mind (depression, anxiety) because of the recurrent suffering that they cause.
The first instinct that we have toward a sharp pain is one of survival...we look instantly at it. Let’s say I go walk slowly outside and I sprain my ankle. The moment I do so, I will automatically feel the intense pain, experience it greatly for a quick moment and then will go on to the next stage….reduce the pain.
But when we look closely at chronic pains, here is what happens: a small pain manifests itself in our body, but it is not strong enough for us to pay attention to it...we are yet unaware of its presence therefore we don’t do anything to reduce it. After a couple of hours of accumulated small pain, our body receives accumulated damage and the pain grows enough for us to feel it.
Finally we will act on it, but wait...we don’t know the origin of that pain. When I sprained my ankle I knew at that time precisely who was the culprit...my clumsy walking, but when it comes to chronic pain, we might feel the damage hours or weeks after the action that initiated the pain.
What can we do? The pain is there, we don’t necessarily know where it came from and therefore don’t know what NOT to do for it to reduce. This is where mindfulness can help us greatly.
Mindfulness is our innate ability to pay attention to any experience we might be feeling right now, in the present moment, without judging it in any way. Even if you don’t understand what it is yet, every single one of us on earth uses it, even you. You could compare it to bare attention, that doesn’t involve any particular action or reaction, but learns a great deal of information from what is happening right now.
This ability permits us to observe our current situation, so that we can afterwards act in a way that will help us achieve our goal: reduce the chronic pain.
A person that practices mindfulness is said to become more mindful with time, meaning that (s)he is more aware of any emotions, thoughts, behaviors, and sensations (s)he will experience during the day.
Because I practice mindfulness daily, here is the process that happens to me: I will tend to be more aware of small pains, as soon as they manifest themselves. Therefore, I will act on it by moving parts of my body, straightening up my back (because of my back pains), and at the end of the day…I will have reduced the overall chronic pain.
As you can see, I’m not suggesting that you can eliminate the chronic pain felt...but you will act on it a lot more times during the day, because you will be more conscious of the small pains experienced by your body at any time.
There is a second important element that comes from using mindfulness when dealing with chronic pains. As I said earlier to be mindful is to look at the present moment in a non-judgmental way, and that changes a lot more than attention.
When we have chronic pains, the mind (mood, thoughts) is affected by it greatly, which will lead us to suffer more from the same amount of pain. The suffering involved in chronic pains is important and has been mentioned by statistics canada as well: people suffering from chronic pains also report suffering from reduced mood and anxiety disorders.
That suffering involves hopelessness: we think there is nothing we can do to reduce, prevent, or counteract that pain. We try to resist to the craving of using painkillers, and medicines, because we know that they also have damaging secondary effects on our bodies and cannot be the main solution to our problem.
“Pain is inevitable, suffering is not”. This famous quote shows us a second solution to our problem, what about reducing the suffering when we can’t reduce the pain? Suffering comes from the inability to accept what is happening right now, in the present moment. Suffering can lead us to do many things that will distract us from the pain, but will also result in other types of pains such as depression, anxiety, anger, etc.
To reduce the suffering, we need to...look at the pain in a non-judgmental way, so that our mind can learn from this new sensation and find better solutions, instead of distracting its own self because it doesn’t know how to reduce it yet. Pain is afterall a sensation, that we dislike...yes, but still a sensation. By looking at the pain we feel and trying to picture it more clearly and understand more its nuances, our mind will give us more rest.
If you or someone you love is experiencing chronic pain and seeks help, try out those solutions as soon as possible. They will have a great impact on the quality of life of the individual suffering from chronic pain.
A body scan is a very good way to start the practice of mindfulness, especially when it comes to any pain occurring in the body, right now.
That’s it, it’s very simple but you need to take the time (5-10 min) to do it regularly, daily if possible.
We give a mindfulness workshop that will help you reduce chronic pain, during which we go more in depth on how mindfulness works, look at its benefits, practice multiple techniques together (body scan, walking meditation, breathing meditation, etc.), and help you find ways to reduce your overall chronic pain and suffering.
You can take a look at our range of prices, or contact us for more information.
14 October 2017