As many of you may know I have a deep interest in pain – both mental and physical, and how the two interact. Recently I was talking with my cranial osteopath, a dear, wise and gentle soul whose presence in my life is a great gift. An author of a number of books and a learned man, he was sharing his belief that he sees there being a ‘membrane’ between the physical and mental. And that in each individual that membrane can be thicker or thinner. For some, with a thin membrane, there is a stronger correlation between physical and mental, and for those people emotional and mental turmoil may affect their physical health more than others. We talked too about what may cause that membrane to be thinner – was it genetic, I asked? He suggested that sometimes trauma or life events can possibly lead to greater sensitivity to external goings on. It got me thinking.

A few hours later I found myself in discussion with a psychologist talking about pain management. We chatted about research looking at ‘mental distraction’ as a tool to reduce pain (or perception of). I recalled a handful of studies carried out with children in hospitals using games as a distraction – with great success. She advised that distraction was a useful tool to use with acute physical pain (pending the level) but not with chronic. I concurred, box-set bingeing had been no help at all! However, in the case of chronic and ongoing pain, she suggested diffusing instead. What exactly did that mean I asked? Was it based upon NLP? She suggested an exercise which I thought I’d share – for both physical and mental pain.

Step 1 Remind yourself that thoughts and feelings come and go like a weather pattern passing through. They are temporary.

Step 2 Accept – where you are at and how you feel, allow the pain.

Step 3  Engage in a few minute grounding exercise. First, listen to all the sounds in your environment for a minute or two. Then, shift your focus to things you can see. Next notice how your body feels on the cushion or chair.

Step 4 Imagine the pain being far away, in the distance, small and indistinguishable. Take a step away from it, and breathe.

Now this all sounded fine to me as a long-term meditator, but I am also ever-aware that the acceptance bit can be tough. Acceptance of the pain levels in that moment, and of the impact the ongoing pain has on daily quality of life is an acquired skill! It brought to mind the work of Jeff Foster who talks about not ‘fighting’ the feeling, the emotion, the pain. But ‘sitting with it’. I often wondered what ‘sitting with it’ really meant. For him, there was no need to step out of the pain. That easing would naturally occur if you stayed with it. Unsure, I reflected on how often I had been in battle with pain, not wanting to accept it, wanting it to go, becoming frustrated, sad, disconnected. Yet, said my psychogist, if one is able to let go of this fight, and somehow sink into acceptance (at any level), ease arrives. Pain reduces. And calmness returns.

I will leave you with some words from Jeff I hope may resonate for some. Until next time.

“Come, uncertainty, sit by my side,
Come, despair, drink from my cup,
Come, fear, do not be afraid of me,
I will not turn away from you,
I will not deny you a place at this table,
Now that I know the truth of myself…”

   – Jeff Foster