I want to talk about pain. Yewww! I’ll try to make it fun. But if I don’t, a painful email is a great opportunity to practice these new approaches to discomfort.
"Pain" is a loaded word. In this post, think of it on a spectrum from discomfort to agony. We’re all on the scale somewhere.
The whole point of this email is to say discomfort is an opportunity. We use pain to defend, harden and increase our ego. But we could use it to realize how connected and free we are.
I've been trying some new practices for handling pain and they're working for me!
I want to share them with you, now.
The past couple weeks I've been trying to walk towards my pain points.
It’s a Buddhist concept based on the idea that discomfort can control us or liberate us.
When I shut a relative down for having a different opinion or avert my eyes when a person living on the street asks for change—I’m trying to lessen my discomfort.
There's a practice that has rewritten my relationship to pain.
Pema Chodron, a Buddhist nun who really does know suffering, teaches a breathing practice: breathe in discomfort and breathe out comfort.
It sounds counterintuitive but that’s the point. On autopilot, we are always trying to breathe out our pain. This is how we end up controlled.
The practice of breathing pain in shows us that we can handle it.
We have space inside for our shame, anxiety, and anger. We don’t have to try to expel it from our consciousness the moment it touches us.
Before a difficult conversation, I breathe in fear and breathe out trust.
Scrolling instagram, I breathe in judgment and breathe out acceptance.
When I zone out while working, I breathe in boredom and breathe out interest.
Tara Brach, psychologist and meditation teacher, says that we assume pain means something is wrong. If my friend makes a comment that hurts, I wonder why I can’t be cool with everything or why she has to be insensitive.
Pain feels like a problem to solve.
This breathing practice teaches us to breathe in discomfort because it is not a problem. It is an aspect of being alive. We can welcome it.
When we breathe out comfort, we show ourselves that we have an endless amount of comfort inside of us.
There is trust, acceptance, and peace to spare.
We do not create our pain. We don’t choose what goes on in our bodies. Thoughts and feelings and painful sensations just come.
Knowing that pain isn't my fault is freeing. If I have a headache, I used to think I should be taking better care of myself and I'd feel too ashamed to tell anyone I felt bad. If I see that pain comes and goes, I don't take it out on myself and amplify the bad experience.
I've been noticing where I feel emotional pain in my body.
Tara Brach says to focus specifically on the throat, chest, and stomach.
Noticing physical pain reminds me that I'm not creating the whole physiological experience of pain—it’s a waterfall flowing through me that I can freak out about or notice as part of being alive.
So in the moment of noticing discomfort, Tara Brach suggests speaking to that experience. I have said to my anxious self, “Tight throat and heavy stomach, what do you want me to notice?”
The answer: “That I might be wrong and vulnerable.”
Then I breathe in, “Being wrong and vulnerable” and breathe out, “Being right and safe.”
You really have to try it to feel the power of it.
You could even do it in this moment. If you’re bummed that it is Monday, breathe in, “Resisting” and breathe out, “Embracing.”
Let me know what happens.
Here's to finding a new relationship with pain,