Here are two ways you can develop this skill in your own personal practice:
FACE THE PAIN — I have a pain in my right ankle. I can find positions where it doesn’t hurt, but when I walk it reasserts itself, causing me to compensate by shifting my balance to the other foot. Now I know from experience, that if I want to, I can push this pain to the edges of my awareness. I can acclimate to pain. The downside of this strategy is that pain can become the guest who never leaves, and who, after a while, becomes part of the furniture.
I’m not pretending that all pain is within our control. Some ailments may be lived with until our last breath. But I also know (from experience) that some pain continues simply because we do not face it.
Here’s an exercise to try.
- Give yourself a few minutes of uninterrupted time.
- Scan your body from the inside to see where you feel pain right now.
- When you locate it, put your imaginary finger on it.
- Now reposition your body so that there is the least amount of strain on that part of your body.
- Close your eyes (after reading this paragraph) and slow your breath down so that the inhalation matches the exhalation.
- Do this a few times, and when you feel the body relaxing a little, redirect your awareness to the area of the pain.
- Now imagine that you are breathing into that area. It may seem strange at first, but it is possible, and in most cases you can feel a subtle movement in and around the pain.
- Now, see if you can go deeper, into the heart of the pain, and fill up the physical space it occupies with the mental space of your awareness.
- Without rejecting or judging, come fully present to pain, and even deeper to its source.
- Hold this awareness for a few minutes if you can, and just notice what happens.
I’ve been practicing this exercise daily on my ankle, with increasing results. At first the pain intensified, got warmer, and then subtly became less pointed and more dispersed. I began to see that holding my leg slightly different released the pain. This translated to a different way of walking. The information available to me now is much greater than before I faced it. This practice doesn’t take the place of going to the chiropractor, but it does remind me of the Biblical quote, “Physician heal thyself.”
SLOWING DOWN – When we feel pressured by deadlines, or when we add that one more thing to our list that tips the scales of overwhelm, the tendency is to speed up. Panic is a good example. This is often when mistakes are made, or when we injure ourselves because our awareness is somewhere other than where we are.
If you ever find yourself in a predicament like this (and who hasn’t) try practicing conscious breathing, in the midst of movement. You don’t have to sit still for this one. What you can do though is slow down your movements so that you don’t get ahead of yourself. Stay in the body, not in the future projection of the mind. Use your breath as your guide. Conscious inhalation and exhalation of your breath sharpens your focus on what is before you. Try it. What you may discover is that you cannot distract yourself with the ramblings in in your head at the same time you focus on your breath.
Breath awareness brings your attention into the body. The more you develop this practice, the more grounded you become. My heartfelt desire is that these ideas find their way into your practice and ease your day.
Here’s a Buddhist Prayer I like:
Through the working of Great Compassion in their hearts
May all beings have happiness and the causes of happiness
May all be free from sorrow and the causes of sorrow