Pain is an intrinsic part of being born in a physical body, as the Buddha has taught. In reality, aging and sickness begin the moment we enter the world. Yet we are conditioned to ward off all pain. We are unwilling to allow the pain simply to happen...
Paradoxically, once we are willing to work with pain, we feel that it is not all bad. Pain is a riveting object of attention; to paraphrase Samuel Johnson, it concentrates the mind wonderfully. If we leave the breath and direct attention to whatever physical sensation is in the body, allowing ourselves to be present with whatever has arisen, the mind doesn’t tend to wander very much. If we are truly aware of the sensations, we find that pain can focus and calm the mind. There can be joy that arises with this concentration. We are not scattered. The mind is happily focused.
- Gavin Harrison, from “Working With Pain,” Tricycle, Winter 2002
I am at work, after a few days of not-quite-unbearable-but-pretty-darn-close back pain, that has left me sleeping with the aid of Tylenol PM and awake with hot packs and Aleve. I'm managing, but it's much nicer to be sitting on a couch than in an office at a computer. Ergonomics are not my strong suit, and to try and adjust a computer on a desk that isn't mine, with my chair height (these long legs are annoying sometimes), it leaves me sitting up high and looking down low which leads to a turtle-head neck forward position. And the rest of my time is spent in a chair listening to people (who get distracted if I squirm too much).
So it's my lunch break (and yes I'm blogging instead of eating), and I come across this daily dharma quote over at Tricycle.com and it speaks perfectly into my experience today. The pain is bringing me into an awareness of my body, of my physical being in the room with another person. I notice when they take a deep breath after a long story, and when I am tensing my abs and restricting my own breathing. I am aware of a lump of irritation in my left shoulder and I do wonder, why is it crying right now, and what is it trying to tell me?
I don't know what it would be like to not have some pain, an ache here or there, and while I wish I didn't have to live like this, I wonder if living in the physical experience is part of what it's all about. So maybe, today my focus will be on the pain, instead of the removal of the pain.