Joyful pain

I’ve had a painful condition which, at some points in my life, flares up for a few hours or sometimes a day or two at a time. It isn’t readily predictable and can be incredibly awkward with its timing! For years I felt it was a punishment and wondered what I had done to ‘deserve’ it, in later years I began thinking maybe it was some kind of karmic ripening and then at least I could suffer it more readily.

Then as my practice developed I chose to focus on a healing deity (the medicine buddha) which gave me enormous relief, and enabled me to focus on the pain with less attachment (and without hyperventilating, always a bonus). It wasn’t ‘my’ pain, but ‘the’ pain in the body, it too would pass given time as everything is impermanent, and whilst it was in the body the medicine buddha would gently help me observe it with loving kindness.

Another practice that has proved extremely useful is to imagine all the other beings in the world who – at the very same moment – would be suffering pain. Imagine how many of them must feel, without access to any pain relief, without any practices to assist at this time of need, and to take on their pain in order to share their burden. Whether or not this has any benefit for those beings that you carry in your mind, the practice of shifting focus from self, from ‘my’ pain, to that of others enables you to move away from the perceived separateness of our existence, and towards realising the common bonds and interdependency of all beings.

We all feel pain. When I feel pain it gives me an insight into how others might feel, now or in the past or future. Focusing on their pain facilitates the development of my compassion for them – and, importantly, for myself too. I have learnt, the hard way, to listen to my body and allow it to rest when it needs to, without frustration or judgement. Pain, much like grief, therefore, is another of life’s great teachers. Within the experience of pain, or indeed within painful experiences, there is ample opportunity to develop one’s compassion, and in turn one’s joy in this life.

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