Shifting My Relationship to Pain

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As you might already know from reading this blog (and my memoir…), managing intense pain of some sort—both physical and psychological—is a reoccurring theme in my mindfulness practice.  I generally manage pain to some degree daily. And, based on my past experiences, when I go on silent meditation retreats—I expect to find myself managing MUCH more.

But I recently came back from a 5 day retreat (with Trudy Goodman), and something felt different this time. Sure, pain showed up (both types I mentioned above). But my relationship to pain seems to be shifting.

Up until very recently, I never understood the saying “pain is inevitable, suffering is optional.” It didn’t make any sense to me because I always collapsed pain and suffering to mean the same thing. Any time pain showed up, my knee-jerk reactions was to do one or more of the following:

  • Clamp down and wallow in it because I needed to prove to myself (and others…) that I was tough
  • Resist it (this shouldn’t be happening!)
  • Avoid it altogether by distracting and/or numbing myself in some way (drinking, eating junk food, over-working, etc)

Spoiler alert! None of the above “coping methods” ever helped me alleviate pain in the long run… In fact, they only ever lead to MORE pain and discomfort on top of the original amount I was feeling.

In other words: my automatic reaction to pain was to make it worse by creating suffering on top of it.

But, as I mentioned earlier, something seems to be shifting. My meditation practice is helping me notice when I’m slipping into old, unhelpful patterns that cause suffering—and I’m learning how to mindfully manage pain when it arises. To hold space around it. To allow it to move through me and run its natural course with kindness and compassion—no matter how difficult that course might be…

In the container of my retreat experience, I was able to see how far my relationship to pain has evolved since I started practicing regularly back in 2010—the spotlight of my experience shining brightly on my forward progress along my path. It felt quite satisfying. Nourishing.


What’s your relationship with pain? Do you have any mindfulness tips for managing pain? Share your comments below. I’d love to hear from you!