Strong, agonizing pain, emotional distress in my chest this morning when I wake up. No words to it – but thinking is very active trying to figure it out, trying to untie the knot. The unpleasantness of the pain sparks aversion. Not all the time – for moments it is just pain, just sensation. The next moment again it seems unbearable and I want it to end.
The internal battle begins:
“This has to go away, it is too painful, it is frightening.”
“No! I have to do something about it, accept it, feel it, be with it. I shouldn’t have an averse reaction. I should only be patiently feeling what is happening. I should not have the wish for the pain to go away.”
“No! It’s okay to have these thoughts and feelings of aversion. Don’t try to get rid of them.”
“No! This is unbearable. It has to stop.”
“No! I should completely accept the pain.”
Anger rising, frustration, agony.
This is the perpetual battle of the confused mind. No solution will be found here.
It appears to be almost impossible to simply stay with sensation that is unpleasant. Especially when it is emotionally charged. There always seems to be an expectation that it go away or that at least it could be understood.
Here it comes again into the foreground: burning pain. But now it is not as much emotion as it is sensation. I can be more easily with that.
I take refuge in a place that is at peace, somewhere between bellybutton and sacrum, an open space, vast and dark: From here all is fine.
From my chest nothing is fine: Burning, fear, doubt. Here is the realm of judgment, the battlefield of right and wrong, where nothing will ever be solved. It is the kingdom of never-ending uncertainty. Its only match is breath.
Breath: Somewhere between the peace of the belly and the terror of the chest, preferring neither. Breathing is the neutral force, where what is, is just what it is. It is as though breathing keeps the two sides from one another, from getting at one another, creating space, as it were, between good and evil, between pleasant and unpleasant. Equanimity.
It is very important to distinguish between perception and thinking. This burning sensation in my chest right now is simply sensation. There are absolutely no words attached to it. There is not even like or dislike attached to it. It is just sensation. I can describe it with words: burning, for example. I can have an internal dialogue about it, analyze it. But there is no trace of that in the sensation itself. Is there any inherent aversion? No, but that response is very close, like the moon circling the Earth.
Please note, especially if you have not read my last post on exploring:
These writings are not theory but practice. They are not a map but reports from the territory, from the immediacy of experiencing. Maps are available @ Sensory Awareness, Buddhism, Psychotherapy and many other locations. I recommend that you study them and that you follow the advice of an experienced guide when you need it – and I hope that you’ll know when you do. I sometimes think I know my way and get terribly lost. I have also used maps showing trails going nowhere. That’s even worse than not having one. At times, however, it is good to have the map snatched out of your hand and get lost in the pathless land so you can find your own way – or simply sit down by a brook and enjoy where you are.
Then, there is also the W.C. Fields attitude in International House, when someone suggested that maybe he is lost, he responds: “Kansas City is lost! I am here!”
I wrote a poem about pain when I was in chemo and radiation treatment. I chose to see the kinds of pain as a symphony, so the rash, the swelling, the scar, etc. each had their own tone. I don’t know if I was using my imagination, or noticing, but it helped.
Thank you for sharing how you worked with pain. I like the idea. Sometimes I use an image too, of whitewater kayaking and hitting a rough spot. but I like the symphony simile. Pain is always not only one kind of sensation but many creating an experience we then call pain. Of course, now I would like to read you poem….. Be well, Stefan
so many kinds of pain
in one body
the rash has its own tone, grating,
a stick drawn across a board shaped
like a porcupine, each quill sharp and fast,
a 32nd note
the swelling, a drum, boom, boom, boom,
the scar, a triangle, ting, ting, ting,
the underarm, a violin, lifting notes
like lace to sky, flutes …
Gut no longer believes in a grand finale
until the feet of the cello come in, ground for tears
plucking the veins
This is very beautiful, Cathy. Thank you.