Author Topic: Vipassana and strong pain  (Read 7568 times)

Stefan

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Vipassana and strong pain
« on: March 10, 2008, 08:02:22 AM »
Hi there,

I am passing on a question that I heard a few times already, and I don't feel fit enough to answer that one on my own:

Seing pain as the bodily level of a Sankhara, one tries to dissolve it by just observing it with equanimity until it's gone. There are different approaches like just passing over it during the bodyscan, or to stay with it for hours until it's dissolved. If it doesn't work, you change your position to relief the body (especially knee and back problems ...).

But how should a determined meditator (re)act when he's facing constant physical pain that disturbs his meditation to a point where it doesn't seem to be possible anymore? Leave it be? Take pain killers before the daily sitting? Just try to dive through the pain no matter how strong it is?

I have my personal opinion on that matter, but I'm curious to hear yours ... before giving stupid advice to a serious question.

Metta, Stefan
anicca

pamojjam

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Re: Vipassana and strong pain
« Reply #1 on: March 10, 2008, 10:42:28 AM »
Dear Stefan,

Your question seem to have 2 parts, one theoretical and one practical.

Since it appears to me that you're concerned more with a practical answer I'll only relate how I handled this situation in 2 practical instances some years ago. And only state where the theory would let to wrong conclusions in how to be with such situations.

I don't give advise directly, but advise to decide on a case to case basis oneself. For the simple reason that different teachers saw it contrary in specific cases, and if you depend on answers you could get really confused.

The yardstick given by Goenkaji to make this method work is:
'awareness and equanimity with sensations in the knowledge of their impermanence have to be sustained'
And NOT to desolve the pain, on the contrary, if you continue this method it will bring you to a place where you will experience all-pervaiding Dukkha!

1) Very strong toothpain: in this case I realized that by moving with awareness of sensations through the body I lost my equanimity, as if moving away from my mouth made the pain there so strong making me fail in fullfilling above maxim.
And always arriving at the pain equanimity could be maintained again.
So - after many hours keeping strictly to the instructions to move - I finally remembered Goenka's maxim and stopped at the pain itself. Within one sit it was gone.

2) Very, very strong chronical back pain: before in life I never took painkillers but just took the pain instead.
But then I got a spine-infection which made me immoveable and binded to bed for altogether 8 months. And at times I couldn't maintain equanimity with the pain and very high doses of painkillers available at that place (Bodhgaya). At its worst, even with the painkiller I was in agony, where I took every 4 hours a dose - still beginning with the 4th and ending with the 1st hour of the intake - I only could help myself with hyperventilation, moaning and groaning.

What to do is such situations? - My answer to myself at that time - be friendly and at ease with the impermanence of equanimity too.

Welcome to MAHA DUKKHA

 :)

pamojjam

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Re: Vipassana and strong pain
« Reply #2 on: March 10, 2008, 10:49:11 AM »

... If it doesn't work, you change your position to relief the body (especially knee and back problems
.. Take pain killers before the daily sitting?

.. just realized I completely misunderstood your question! And probably still do. Are you only talking about self-inflicted pain through the sitting posture? - Or is there some other chronical issue involved?

If you wouldn'd hurt an other, why would you hurt yourself? - Why not take a comfortable sitting posture?

with metta..
« Last Edit: March 10, 2008, 11:19:03 AM by pamojjam »

Matthew

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Re: Vipassana and strong pain
« Reply #3 on: March 10, 2008, 12:35:26 PM »
Stefan,

In my opinion, pain in the body during sitting for a long practiced meditator is not something to be expected unless there is a physical or psychological health issue behind the pain. The health issue could be a habitual pattern of using the body incorrectly (in which case a good chiropracter or osteopath plus some yoga/pilates might be the answer).

It could also be something more serious such as an unrecognised internal injury causing the body to compensate to avoid pain in the original injury site. Western medicine is not very good at recognising this sort of thing so not much hope lays there for an answer.

I do believe there are times when the physical pain is a manifestation of unrecognised emotional pain also.

It is a complex field of enquiry and very hard to be precise with answers, frankly, as they depend entirely on the situation. Sorry to be so unspecific in answering but ... as I say, it depends on the pain and on the person experiencing it. For example, if someone just cut off your left leg with a chain saw, it will hurt no matter how good your meditation is.

In the Dhamma,

Matthew
~oOo~     Tat Tvam Asi     ~oOo~    How will you make the world a better place today?     ~oOo~    Fabricate Nothing     ~oOo~

Stefan

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Re: Vipassana and strong pain
« Reply #4 on: March 10, 2008, 12:39:17 PM »
Hei Pamojjam,

no, you understood the question perfectly well! You gave some good examples which I'm going to pass on.
To be a little more precise: one case is a fellow meditator who suffers from a chronical intestinal illness. He says the pain becomes so strong during meditation that he cannot go on with meditation. Since this is chronical, he doesn't want to wait till he will be cured, because it could take years (maybe). So he wants to go on with meditation, but doesn't know how to deal with the strong pain. As soon as possible I'm going to tell him your two stories, which could already be very helpful for him.

Are you only talking about self-inflicted pain through the sitting posture?
If you wouldn'd hurt an other, why would you hurt yourself? - Why not take a comfortable sitting posture?

No, I didn't talk about that. We had this topic in another thread before ("are you sitting comfortably?"), and a very wise AT told me on that topic: "If it only was to overcome pain, we'd all have beds of nails here." I used to sit in a comfortable chair during my retreat ...

be friendly and at ease with the impermanence of equanimity too.

that would have been my theoretical advice, too! (If you can't keep up equanimity, then at least you can stay equanimous to the fact that you could't stay equanimous ...)

Metta, Stefan
anicca

Stefan

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Re: Vipassana and strong pain
« Reply #5 on: March 10, 2008, 12:46:04 PM »
Hei Matthew,

in this case it seems to be a known pain with a known source & reason. I think (hope) he gets good medical treatment ... but the physical and emotional and also spiritual healing is the other side of the coin.
This side is the way how to deal with it during daily sittings- that's what my question is about. The pain doesn't occur as a reaction to body scans, but the awareness of the body seems to increase the pain felt by him. As I said, this is only an example for a few more cases I ran across. But they all have this pattern.

Metta, Stefan
anicca

Matthew

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Re: Vipassana and strong pain
« Reply #6 on: March 10, 2008, 12:53:11 PM »
Stefan

OK I understand. Sometimes I find that when I focus on the pain things get worse but that there is always another side: there is always an area of my body of which I am very unaware with no pain, almost no sensation. Sometimes when I focus on these areas and give a chance for the sensation that is "hiding behind the clouds" to emerge it loosens the muscle tightness and pain in the other, affected, area. This is what I was trying to point to with the comments regarding the body compensating for unknown injuries.

I hope your friend gets the mledical help he needs so these physical issues stop interfering with his practice.

In the Dhamma,

Matthew
« Last Edit: March 11, 2008, 04:23:28 PM by The Irreverent Buddhist »
~oOo~     Tat Tvam Asi     ~oOo~    How will you make the world a better place today?     ~oOo~    Fabricate Nothing     ~oOo~

Stefan

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Re: Vipassana and strong pain
« Reply #7 on: March 10, 2008, 01:09:58 PM »
[...] there is always an area of my body of which I am very unaware with no pain, almost no sensation. Sometimes when I focus on these areas and give a chance for the sensation that is "hiding behind the clouds" to emerge it loosens the muscle tightness and pain in the other, affected, area.

So you mean you focus on a "blind spot" on your body, and dealing with this one dissolves or at least mollyfies the pain in another part? This could mean the pain and therefore the illness is a secondary phenomenon that arises because the primary phenomenon (= the real source) has been supressed? I never thought of that in this context, but thinking about it now it seems perfectly logical to me! It would also explain why his meditation doesn't affect his pain in a positive way!
 I always wondered where the blind areas come from ... some people never feel a certain part of their body. I know this experience, too, though only temporarily ... but I got to know somebody who never felt his left shoulder although he made good proceedings with meditation.

Very interesting! Somehow this reminds me of Shiatsu or also ... what's-the-name-in-english .... were you press some spots on the foot and the pain in the neck vanishes.

With Metta, Stefan
anicca

pamojjam

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Re: Vipassana and strong pain
« Reply #8 on: March 10, 2008, 01:12:58 PM »

Matthew, you made a very good point.

Quote
... but the physical and emotional and also spiritual healing is the other side of the coin.
This side is the way how to deal with it during daily sittings- that's what my question is about.

This remembers me to one problem I encountered only during meditation and never in daily life - though now not related to your friends difficulty - complete constipation.

Quote
I do believe there are times when the physical pain is a manifestation of unrecognised emotional pain also.

And this case it took me a long, long time and this condition only got better after widening my awareness to what was going on a mental level too.

Everyone is different, and in my case trying to focus exclusively on body sensations was like supressing and constipating on the mental level for me - somatising as a real constipation.

the very best to your friend..