Bubbles of pain surfacing

At some point in a healing and/or awakening process, it’s as if the lid has been taken off the emotional pain that previously was safely tucked away. That happened for me some years ago, and the pain that surfaced was intense and felt overwhelming for quite a while.

The pain still comes up strongly at times, although there are more calm days and when it surfaces it tends to be less intense.

Today was one of those more painful days, and it was triggered by a situation that in itself was very minor.

I sometimes feel like a little kid when small situations are enough to trigger this deep pain in me. Although it’s also something to be grateful for since it’s surfacing to be met, felt, loved, and gently looked at, and why not have it surface based on a smaller situation. In my case, it often seems to be a disappointment and crushed expectations that are the trigger.

So how to relate to this emotional pain when it feels overwhelming? Here are some ways that are helpful to me:

Talk with a friend who can meet your experience with kindness without buying into the stories.

Sit with a friend who can hold space.  Sit in silence. Allow and feel the physical sensations of the emotional pain.

Eat some protein and nutrient rich food. Drink plenty of water.

Go for a walk. Use the body. Get fresh air. Spend time in nature.

Rest with the physical sensations. Notice if images or words come up, and rest with them if they do. Return to the physical sensations.

Notice any wish for the experience to be different. Find where you feel it in the body, and rest with and allow those sensations.

Identify and write down the painful stories connected to the emotional pain. Take these to inquiry. (The Work.)

Relate to yourself, the parts of you in pain, and the painful sensations, with kindness. Use ho’oponopono, tonglen, or something similar as a support.

Let the painful stories be true for now. Allow and feel the emotions surfacing.

Remind yourself about what’s happening. The pain is old and not about the current situation. The stories come from the pain and have only a very limited validity.

Ride out the pain. It’s a storm passing through. Look at the pain when it has subsided some and it’s easier to feel the sensations and explore the imaginations connected with it. With time, your capacity to do this will grow and you can do it while it’s more intense.

Treat yourself as you would treat a dear friend, child, or animal in pain. Treat yourself with that kindness.

Treat the pain as you would like to be treated when you are in pain. Meet it with presence, kindness, patience, respect.

Sometimes, like today, it’s often a combination of going for a walk, getting fresh air, eating a nutritious meal, talking with a friend, sitting with the feelings and sensations in silence with support of a friend, resting with the sensations on my own, identifying stories for inquiry, and also riding it out some.

It’s a humbling process. Apart from the healing that can come if I meet the pain with presence and patience, there is also a deepening sense of universality about this emotional pain. We are all in the same boat here. We all experience it at some point in our life.

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Muscle relaxants and painkillers, and what we feel

Their conclusion: Acetaminophen, the most common drug ingredient in the United States, can reduce a person’s capacity to empathise with another person’s pain, whether that pain is physical or emotional.

Popular painkiller ingredient can reduce empathy, study finds, The Independent, May 12 2016

Recent research shows that common painkillers reduce empathy. Having worked with clients who are on different types of medication aimed at reducing emotional or physical pain, I am not surprised. It seems that reducing our ability to feel physical sensations reduces our ability to feel emotions as well. And that’s what we would expect knowing that sensations are an essential component of emotions and any experience that we experience as having a charge.

As I have mentioned in other posts, sensations lend charge and a sense of reality and solidity to imaginations. They make the content of stories seem real, true, and charged, whether these stories are just a label (sadness, anger, happiness, pain), or a more elaborate story about the world, others, or oneself.

I assume something similar is happening with muscle relaxants. Body contractions are a part of anxiety, depression, trauma, and addictions, so when the body contractions soften, the intensity of these emotions and cravings are likely to soften as well.

No wonder people get addicted to painkillers and even muscle relaxants. They help us not feel feelings we would rather not feel.

Painkillers and muscle relaxants numb us. There is nothing wrong in that. For some of us, it may be the best solution in the situation we are in. And it’s also not a lasting solution. It doesn’t solve the underlying issues which is that we take our experience as real and solid, we take our painful stories as true, and we fight and struggle with our painful stories and how they make us feel. For that, we need to address these underlying issues more directly. For instance through inquiry.

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Awakening includes rude awakening

If you have a rude awakening, you have a severe shock when you discover the truth of a situation.

– from The Free Dictionary

An awakening process can be a rude awakening.

Some parts of the awakening process is what our personality likes. It aligns with what our personality likes and wants. For instance, an early and temporary transcendence gives us a taste of freedom from trauma, pain, and hurt.

Other parts may be more difficult for our personality. They can challenge or clash with habitual patterns our mind initially created to stay safe. These include but are not limited to:

Disillusionment. Awakening includes disillusionment and especially disillusionment about what awakening is and what “we” get out of it. We may hope for a state of eternal peace and bliss, and what it’s really about is awakening to and as that which already allows any experience and state, including sadness, anger, and pain.

Awakening to the shadow. Awakening means awakening to everything, including our own very human pain, trauma, and hurt. At some point, this comes to the surface with an invitation to question the unquestioned stories holding the hurt in place, feel the unfelt feelings and emotions, and love all of it as it is including any reactions we have towards it.

Most people have a lot of misconceptions about awakening or enlightenment. This is partly inevitable since awakening is a change of the context of our experience rather than a change within our experience, and most of us are only familiar with the latter until there is an initial opening or awakening. These misconceptions are also partly encouraged and perpetuated by some spiritual traditions and teachers, either for strategic reasons (which I happen to not agree with) or because they don’t know better.

It’s difficult to know in advance how much of the trauma is healed or cleared up by the initial awakening, or any practices we engage with before or after the initial awakening. It’s also difficult to know how much is there in the first place. A lot of it is “collective” trauma passed on through the generations and by our culture, and some may also be due to epigenetics. I was certainly surprised by the amount of pain and trauma that surfaced for me.

What do I mean when I say that awakening is a shift in the context of our experience? It’s because an awakening is an awakening to – and then as – what experience happens within and as. This is sometimes labeled awareness, presence, Spirit or something similar, although any label will make it seem more discrete and like an object than it is. Content of experience doesn’t have to change at all, although it often does as a side effect of this shift in context.

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Inquiry on physical pain

Here are three aspects to physical pain:

  1. Taking care of it in a sensible and conventional way. Go to the doctor to have it checked out. Do whatever is needed to take care of the physiological problem it reflects.
  2. How we relate to it. If we are caught in fear and struggle in relationship to the pain, it creates a whole world of suffering.
  3. Our experience of the pain itself. Do we see it as solid, an object? Or do we see more clearly how the mind creates its own experience of the pain?

It’s pretty self-explanatory how to take care of it in a conventional way.

Here are some ways we can explore how we relate to the pain and how our mind creates the experience of the pain itself:

Examine any beliefs about it. (The Work.) It’s too much. I can’t function. It’s too distracting. I am a victim. It’s pain. It’s a problem. I need it to go away.  

Examine how the mind creates the experience of the threat in the pain, the pain itself, any commands for it to change. (Living Inquiries.) What images, words, and sensations make up my experience of a threat? What’s connected to these? What images, words, and sensations make up my experience of the pain itself? What images, words, and sensations make up the commands for it to change or go away?

Notice the space it happens within. The boundless space outside and inside of it.

As with anything else, when images, words, and sensations seem “glued together” there is a charge there. Sensations give the words and images a sense of substance, substance, and reality, and also charge. The images and words give the sensations meaning. In this case, that’s how the additional struggle and suffering is created. The mind creates it for itself. And by examining how it creates its own experience of the threat, pain, and commands, something shifts. Our relationship to the pain shifts, and our experience of the pain itself shifts. We tend to befriend it. The charge may even soften or fall away. (We can also examine any threat if it doesn’t, and any commands for it to change.)

We can also notice the space it happens within. Notice that any sense of boundaries is created by images (possibly connected with sensations that gives the image of a boundary a sense of substance and reality). And notice that the space outside and inside of the pain is one space. This tends to “dilute” the experience of pain, which also tends to shift our relationship to it and our experience of the pain itself.

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How the mind relates to physical and emotional pain

What’s the difference between physical and emotional pain?

Not so much, if you’re the mind. In both cases, it may either see it as a threat and recoil from it, or find a way to befriend it.

In both cases, it’s possible to deconstruct and examine how the mind relates to this pain, and find another and more comfortable way to relate to it.

Here are some ways to use the Living Inquiries to explore pain:

Threat. Where is the threat? What images, words, and sensations appear threatening? What additional images, words, and sensations are connected to these? (AI)

The pain itself. Can I find the pain? How does my mind create its experience of the pain? What images, words, and sensations makes up the experience of this pain? (UI)

Someone in pain. Can I find me, the one in pain? What images, words, and sensations make up the experience of me, the one in pain? (UI)

Command. Can I find the command to not be in pain? How does my mind create this command? What images, words, and sensations make up this command? (CI)

Isolating. Can I isolate out sensations, recognize and feel them as sensations? Can I isolate out the images and recognize and look at them as images? Can I do the same with the words? This is the beginning of inquiry, and a crucial step.

Resting. Can I rest with the pain. Notice and allow. Notice sensations, images, words. Allow. Notice they are already notice. Notice they are already allowed. This is the context of inquiry, what inquiry happens within.

Mining. What’s the worst that can happen when I am in pain? What do I fear the most? What’s the best that can happen if I am not in pain? What does the pain mean? What do the sensations mean? What would it say if it could speak? What does it want from me? How would it like me to relate to it?

A lot of the discomfort in pain is how the mind reacts to it. When it sees it as solid, real, and a threat, it recoils from it and reacts to it. And that drama tends to increase and intensify the experience of discomfort. Without these extra layers, the pain itself is easier to relate to and befriend. It becomes less of a threat.

Emergency measures

When something – an emotion, physical or emotional pain, cravings and addictions – feels overwhelming and unbearable, what do we do?

As psychologists (and others) identified a while ago, there is a range of coping strategies. From the more unhealthy ones such as drinking, using drugs, and aggression and violence, to the moderately unhealthy ones such as eating, shopping, and entertainment, to the more helpful ones such as friendships, nature, movement, to the ones that may resolve it all such as inquiry and seeing through the beliefs of overwhelm and unbearable.

Among the latter, some may be helpful short term and some in the longer term. And we each have to find what works for us.

Here are some emergency measures that works for me:

Move. Go for a walk. Do self-Breema. Shake (TRE). Jump up and down in place.

Talk with a friend.

Conscious breathing. Place hands on belly and chest and notice the breath. Make outbreath longer than inbreath. Breathe into the sensation, allow the sensation and breath to merge.

Feel the sensations. Feel them as sensations. (Set the stories aside for a while, if I can.)

Use ho’oponopono. Say to myself (the scared part of me), I am sorry, please forgive me, I love you. Say this also to whatever triggered it. (A person, symptom, situation.)

Alternately amplify and drop the stressful stories. (10 sec. each, described by Joey Lott in some of his books).

Tapping. (EFT type tapping.)

Say to myself: I love you. I love you. I love you. / It’s OK to feel this.

Ask myself: Is it true this is overwhelming? Is it true it’s too much? It’s unbearable, is it true?

And some longer term strategies:

Inquire into how I relate to what’s been triggered.

Can I find the threat? The overwhelm? Intensity? Pain? (Living Inquiries.)

Is it true it’s unbearable? Too much? (The Work.)

Inquire into the triggers. (Perceived threats.)

Inquire into being triggered. (My stories about it, deficient identities, fears.)

I posted a question about this on a Facebook page for inquiry, and here are two answers I found especially helpful:

Venting to a best friend. Talking it out, focusing on how I feel versus the triggering event or person. Giving it that voice helps it wash through through a big honest cry.

Also, lately I’ve been using the words “I am willing to feel this” with whatever arises. Physical or emotional pain, lately it works for me most of the time. Another one: Put my hand on my heart and say “I love you” over and over again. or Put my hand on the area of my body that hurts/triggered and do the same thing. “I love you” “I’m sorry you’re feeling this” “I love you”. caress my face, caress my arms, like a pet… for a few minutes. tapping also. These are mine.

– Marina B.

An interesting question. As time has gone on, I’ve discovered that it’s possible to rest with even the most intense states/feelings. That’s been incredibly valuable, as I spent many years feeling that I couldn’t be with what I was feeling, and so using all the tools that we’ve described above, and more. They certainly have their place, and yet what has helped me the most is being with or resting or inquiring even in the direst of times. There’s something so profound about discovering we do have the capacity to bear it all, even when it feels unbearable

– Fiona R.

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Byron Katie: Pleasure is pain

Pleasure is pain.

– Byron Katie

Yes. Pleasure is pain because……

Pleasure and pain are both sensations + images + words. The only difference is the meaning my mind attaches to the sensations. (One example is fear. If I experience fear while watching a good movie, or while on an amusement park ride, I may interpret it as pleasure. If I experience fear while alone in a dark alley, or after getting a diagnosis from my doctor, my mind may interpret it as pain.)

Pleasure is pain when I attach to the idea of needing pleasure. When it’s compulsive, pleasure seeking is painful. Trying to get it is painful. Anticipating it going away is painful. Having it go away is painful. Anticipating not finding it again is painful. Realizing that pleasure seeking is inherently unsatisfactory, while still being caught in it, is painful.

Deep wounds and deep caring

I am rewatching X-Men Days of Future Past, and it’s reminding me of what can happen when there is a combination of deep wounding and deep caring. It’s also easter, and that too is reminding me of this theme.

Raven, and to some extent Eric, both were deeply wounded, and deeply care. And it sometimes comes out in reactive ways. Ways that hurt themselves more, and hurt others too.

I see the same in Judas. There too, I imagine a deep caring, and deep wounds, combining to bring him to do what he did. To give the person he deeply loved to those who wanted to do away with him.

And I see the same in myself. I see what happens when there is deep caring, and deep wounding, and acting from reactiveness. It hurts me further, and it hurts those around me.

Sometimes, it’s not very obvious. Sometimes, it’s in what I am not doing rather than what I am doing. And yet, I see the same pattern there. A combination of deep caring, deep wounding, and acting from reactiveness rather than a more clear and kind intention.

Deep wounds come from deep caring. They are an expression of deep caring. And, as Xavier said, Just because someone stumbles and loses their way, it doesn’t mean they’re lost forever. Sometimes we all need a little help.

The (ordinary) tragedy of a human life 

There is a very ordinary tragedy of a human life.

We all experience loss, failure, illness, death.

There is nothing remarkable about it, even if – for some of us – it may seem that way. It may seem that we are singled out by life. We are singularly unfortunate. We are singularly a victim of life.

One reason it may appear that way is that most of us present a relatively successful facade to others, at least as long as we are able to. And we reserve the rest to close friends, or perhaps only ourselves. We share our highlights reel, and hide the bloopers.

Sharing this with others – perhaps even in a more structured setting – is a good way to see that life is different. Life is hard for all of us, at times and in certain areas of life.

Another is to meet the victim in us with love (and the hurt and pain), and also do inquiry on this.

As I resist and fight against my own pain and victimhood, I tend to feel apart from humanity in this. As I meet it with love and curiosity, it softens – and may be seen for what it is – and I feel a part of humanity.

Life’s inherent and inevitable tragedy becomes something that brings me closer to myself and others. It’s something we all share. It’s even something I can meet with kindness and love in myself. I may even find that wounds, pain and tragedy is not quite as solid or heavy as it initially appeared.

Exploring pain

I started a more intentional dental care last week, which included using my Sonicare brush again (after some months off), and experimenting with oil swishing (“oil pulling”), in addition to the usual flossing and rinsing with salt water, and also being more intentional about the diet (for good oral health). I found this video and Joey Lott’s book helpful.

After a couple of days, I noticed my gums felt a bit sore, and this changed into stronger pain (tooth ache?) the last few days. I initially thought it was related to using the Sonicare again, or perhaps the oil swishing, and then wondered if it was a regular tooth ache (signalling I need to visit the dentist soon) that just happened to coincide with slightly changing how I take care of my gums and teeth.

In any case, it’s been quite painful and it gave me an opportunity to explore pain.

I reminded myself that pain is essential for our survival. It shows us that something is wrong, and needs to be taken care of. And it’s occasional intensity reminds us of how stubborn and dense we can be.

I spent some time with it. You are welcome here. Thank you for protecting me. Thank you for your love for me. I love you. (This brought up some resistance and fear, which I also welcomed.)

I explored it using the Living Inquiries. Look at the word “pain”, is that word in pain? Look at the images of the pain, are those images in pain. Feel the sensations, are those sensations in pain? This helped me see that I cannot find pain, as it initially appeared. It’s made up for words, images and sensations, and each of these are fine.

And…. I have taken some pain killers (I figured out which one worked the best), got the name of a good (?) holistic dentist in Oslo (which is good to know in any case), figured out that sitting up slightly while sleeping reduced the pain (reduced the blood pressure in the mouth), and I plan to go to the dentist soon if the pain continues. This is a reminder that inquiry and “inner work” goes hand in hand with, and even supports, practical and good common-sense action.

Byron Katie: Pain is nothing to fear

Pain is nothing to fear; it’s something to understand.

– Byron Katie

I hesitate commenting on something already so clear, but will write a couple of things anyway.

A lot – or all? – of the discomfort of physical pain comes from our stories about it, and how we scare ourselves. It’s pain, is it true? What do I find when I examine it? Can I find actual pain in words, images and sensations? What’s the worst that can happen if I have physical pain? What do I find when I examine that further?

And the same with emotional pain. Is it really emotional pain? Can I find actual emotional pain in words, images or sensations?

Inquiry on pain

I woke up with a rare (for me) headache this morning, and did some inquiry on it.

Look at the word “pain”. Can it experience pain? (No.) Are the words the actual pain? (No.)

Feel the sensations. Take your time. Do you notice any images connected with the sensations? (Yes, a texture somehow representing pain.)

Look at that image. Can that image feel pain? (No.) Is the image the pain? (No.)

Feel the sensations again. Do you see an image on the sensations? (Yes, an image of the skull with the painful areas “lit up”.)

Look at the image. Can the image feel pain? (No.) Is the image the actual pain? (No.)

Feel the sensations. Drop into the middle of the sensations. Are the sensations pain? (Yes, I see an image of the head.)

Look at the image of the head. Can the image feel pain? (No.) Is the image pain? (No.)

Feel the sensations again. When you are ready, see if the sensations are pain. (No, they are sensations.)

And a question from yesterday:

Feel the sensations. Are those sensations unloved by life? (No.) Look at the word “pain”. Is the word unloved by life? (No.) Look at the images connected with the pain. Are those images unloved by life? (No.)

This is a shortened version of the inquiry. For me, at least, there are more words and images connected with the pain.

As with inquiry in general, what happens is that….

I get to see what’s there. I get to see some of how my experience of pain is created.

The words and images associated with the pain are recognized as words and images, making it easier to feel the sensations as sensations.

The extra “layer” of stories loses its charge, which means that the extra layer of reactivity and distress is softened or falls away. This makes what’s left easier to feel and experience.

What’s left is not really “pain”, it’s sensations. And it’s easier to find curiosity for these sensations, feel them as sensations, and hold them in a loving presence.

Ways through emotional pain

In the most recent phase of my life, I have become much more familiar with emotional pain. Where my life used to be relatively easy and I was consistently quite content and happy, I instead got thrown into cycles of deep emotional pain alternating with relative calm. There is a clear sense that my system is bringing up whatever wounds and trauma are here – from this life and ancestral material, and perhaps from previous lives – so it can be digested. Or…. so it can be seen, felt, loved and released. So it can be seen for what it is. Felt as it is. Loved as it is. Recognized as love. So this human self can heal and mature a little more. So more of who I am is aligned with the clarity and love of reality. Anything not like love and clarity will come up so it can align with clarity and love.

Here are some of the ways I have found helpful in relating to this emotional pain.

Reframing. How I frame the emotional pain makes a difference. If I see it as a problem, or a sign that something went wrong, it’s difficult. I stay in the battle with the pain. Instead, if I see the pain as coming to be seen, felt, loved and released, it’s different. Making it even more personal, I can see the pain as unloved children coming to find a home and love. The unloved parts of me seek the light, they seek the loving presence I really am, and reality really is.

Love. The pain seeks love. Here are some ways to meet the pain with love: (a) Can I meet and feel it with love? Can I allow it to happen within me, (with me) as a loving presence? Is it true that love is not already here? (b) I can say something very simple to myself and the pain, such as “I wish you love, I wish you ease, I love you”. (c) I can use practices such as ho’oponopono, metta or tonglen, either on the pain itself, the suffering me, someone triggering pain in me, and anyone/everyone else in my life and the world. (d) I can meet the pain in satsang. You are welcome here. Thank you for protecting me. Thank you for your love for me. What would satisfy you forever? What are you really? (This is also a form of inquiry.)

Feeling the sensations. Emotional pain is much easier to deal with when it’s felt as sensations, and the associated stories (words and images) are either set aside (temporary solution) or seen through (more lasting). Where do I feel it in the body? What are the sensations? How is it to feel these? How is it to bring attention to the sensations in themselves? How is it to allow them to be there, to change?

Inquiry. Inquiry can be very helpful here, in many different ways. Through inquiry, I can….

(a) Identify and see through beliefs triggering the pain.

(b) Examine the words and images “glued” to a sensation, making up the experience of emotional pain. As words are seen as words, and images as images, it’s easier to feel sensations as sensations. This, in turn, allows the “charge” behind it to be released.

(c) Examine the emotional pain itself, and the apparent me that’s experiencing or reacting to the pain. Is either as real and solid as it appears?

Also, I can…..

(d) Ask myself: Is it true it’s too intense? Is it true I can’t take it? Is it true I can’t feel the sensations as sensations? Is it true I am unable to feel it within (me as a) loving presence? Is it true it’s not already allowed?

(e) Notice that the emotional pain is here, and that which it is happening within is here – the wider space, allowing, a loving presence. I can notice the content of consciousness (aka in this case “emotional pain”), and consciousness itself (wider space, allowing, loving presence). Both are already noticed, and that noticing can be very helpful.

Additional approaches. There is a range of additional approaches and healing modalities that can help here, including Tension and Trauma Release (TRE), EFT, EMDR, massage, and more.

Support. Finding support can ease the process a great deal. I have found support in friends, people who have gone through something similar, teachers and guides, gaining some understanding of the process, being in nature, walking, nurturing and grounding foods, body work (massage, Breema etc.), taking time, finding some patience with myself and the process, and more.

Transparency. Letting people around me know what’s going on, at least if they are understanding, can prevent some problems. I have found myself behaving “out of character” when the process gets intense, and also, at times, acting on the pain that’s coming up. It helps to remember that my current situation, and people in my life now, are not the “cause” of this pain. It’s much older and more primal than that. And it helps to (honestly) admit to not always being able to relate to the pain in a sane and mature way, and apologize.

Give myself a break. It’s also been important for me to give myself breathing room. Sometimes, just going for a walk, watching a movie, or doing something with friends seems to be the best medicine. It feels good to take my mind off what’s happening, even – or perhaps especially – when the process feels intense and relentless.

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David White: Pain

Pain is the first proper step to real compassion; it can be a foundation for understanding all those who struggle with their existence. Experiencing real pain ourselves, our moral superiority comes to an end; we stop urging others to get with the program, to get their act together or to sharpen up, and start to look for the particular form of debilitation, visible or invisible that every person struggles to overcome. We suddenly find instead, our understanding and compassion engaged as to why others may find it hard to fully participate.

– David White, from the essay Pain

It’s a reminder for me of how humbling – in a good way – the chronic fatigue has been for me.

I see it’s not always possible to pull ourselves up by the bootstrap, as I was used to in my twenties. I found a deeper and more honest understanding for myself and others, and the difficulties we experience.

It’s a reminder that “I” am not really in control. If life doesn’t play along, what I wish or plan for doesn’t happen.

It’s a reminder that we are all dependent on each other. I am not only dependent on the whole universe in its extent and history, the history of this living planet and humanity, the global and local ecological and social systems, but also the very simple everyday kindness of those around me.

It’s a reminder that it’s OK to ask for help. It’s OK to – very clearly and in a conventional sense – depend on others. It may even be a gift – to me and others.

It’s a reminder that we are all in this together. We all experience (what a thought would label) difficulties and challenges. We may all feel it’s too much, at times. We may all be brought to our knees, one or more times in our life.

I found how liberating it is to be a full human being rather than trying to live up to an image or the expectations of myself and others.

I found how liberating it is to be naked to myself and others.

I noticed who in my life was OK with this, and who were not. It naturally sorted my friends into those who stayed or came into my life, and those who left.

It helped me see that I don’t own anyone or anything. I don’t own my health, my energy, my clear mind, my engagement, my ability to follow through on what I plan. I don’t own people in my life. I don’t own my hopes and expectations for my life. I don’t own this mind or body. I don’t own this life. I don’t even own my fears. They all live their own lives.

Byron Katie: Pain is a projection

Pain is a total projection, and it prevents us from noticing that it’s all love.

– Byron Katie, paraphrased from a webcast

I see this for myself, and these days especially when I use the living inquiries.

When words, images and sensations combine into the appearance of pain, it’s experienced as painful, whether it’s emotional or physical pain.

Examining each of these separately, I see there is no threat in the words, in the images, or in the sensations. (And if there appear to be, I can – for instance – look for underlying images and ask if there is a threat there.) The stickiness of the idea or experience of “pain” is reduced or falls away.

There may still be words, images and sensations, and more of an allowing of these, and a noticing that they are already allowed. The sticky conglomerate of words, images and sensations called “pain” is not there anymore, or it’s faded and in the background.

I get to see that “pain” is a projection, and that what’s here is love.



Jeff Foster: Pain is not a mistake

Pain is not a mistake. It doesn’t mean that something has ‘gone wrong’ in the universe, that the body-mind is ‘broken’ in any way. It is only a signal, an expression of deep intelligence, a loud and clear call for kind, non-judgemental, present-moment attention. It is an invitation to break from your usual routine and plans and patterns, and meet a sacred moment with fresh and unassuming eyes.

Pain is not an enemy of awakening, but a misunderstood friend, come to shatter all your dreams, and a awaken a deep humility and respect for life.

Pain can be brutal, yes, but compassion doesn’t always have to feel good.

– Jeff Foster

Labeling experience

A thought labels an experience. It may say it’s joy, pleasure, fear, dread, stuckness, physical pain.

Another thought may say it’s desirable or undesirable, something to keep or try to change.

And if these thoughts are taken as real and true, if they are not examined and questioned, it all seems very real.  Mind perceives, feels and acts as if it’s real.

And yet, it’s all created by unexamined thoughts, and mind identifying with the viewpoints of these thoughts.

The reality is that what’s here is not the label, it’s not inherently terrible or good, and it lives its own life – as do any responses to it.

It’s here to protect me. Any response in me, any emotion or physical sensation, is here to protect me. It’s devoted to me.

It’s love, and it can be recognized as love and met with love. And that’s what it has wished for. It can relax.

When a thought says “it’s dread” and “undesirable”, and mind identifies with that thought, it’s awakeness fighting itself.

And when that’s seen, it seems quite ridiculous and the dynamics fall apart, to the extent it’s seen (examined), felt (experienced, noticed as already allowed) and loved (recognized as love and met with love).

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Relating to physical and emotional pain

Thoughts about physical and emotional pain:

It’s separate. It’s an enemy. It’s a problem. Pain is bad.

It’s better if it’s not here. Another experience is better.

There shouldn’t be pain in the world.

I need it to change. I am a victim of the pain.

It will get worse. It will continue.

It’s overwhelming. It’s too much.

I can get rid of it. I need to get rid of it.

It’s pain. It’s uncomfortable.

What I hope to get out of seeing it as separate is….

Distance. Separation. Control. Able to manage it, get rid of it.

If it’s separate, I can get rid of it. ***

Pain means….

Something is wrong.

Life is unkind. Life is an enemy. I can’t trust life. Life is out to get me.

I am doing something wrong. I am being punished.

Suffering. ***

It will impact my life. I won’t be able to function.

Hunger, tiredness, physical pain

From an earlier post:

Basic physical experiences such as hunger, tiredness and pain are very interesting to explore in this way, and I notice I prefer to do it while the sensations are quite subtle and then move on to the stronger ones if or when they visit.

With hunger and tiredness, I find that certain beliefs tends to trigger and/or fuel the experience of hunger or tiredness. For instance, the thought that I’ll have food soon tends to trigger hunger. And thoughts such as I need to be rested, I won’t get enough rest tends to trigger an experience of tiredness.

Not surprisingly, resistant thoughts to the hunger, tiredness or pain tends to make the experience unpleasant. These may include I need food, I can’t function without food, I need sleep, I won’t function without more rest, I need to be rested, and pain is terrible, I can’t function with this pain, this pain is all-encompassing, pain means something is wrong, pain means something terrible will happen.

Labeling the sensations, and taking these thoughts as true, also has a role. Believing labels – even simple ones such as hunger, tiredness and pain – does a couple of things. It solidifies the experience of hunger, tiredness or pain, making it seem more real and substantial, more like a thing. And it triggers additional thoughts and stories about what it means.

So it can be quite interesting and helpful to investigate each of these types of beliefs. They each help to find what’s really there, in immediate experience, and not just what appears to be there when I believe certain thoughts about it.

Physical pain

A friend of a friend has chronic pain and asked for a group healing session this weekend, and I was invited to join. It felt very good to share the intention for healing, and for it to happen in whatever way may be most helpful (shift in health, shift in how he relates to the pain etc.)

It also reminded me of some resources I find helpful and interesting:

Shinzen Young‘s guided meditation to invite a shift in how we relate to and experience pain:

Break Through Pain – a book

A guided meditation on YouTube – part one.

The Work – taking stressful thoughts on pain and health to inquiry.

Body in ruins – a dialog with Byron Katie.

A list of certified facilitators in The Work.

Tension/Trauma Release Exercises. Neurogenic tremors (shaking) helps release tension which may shift our relationship to and experience of pain.

A testimonial on Vimeo on TRE reducing pain associated with fibromyalgia

The main TRE website.

Meditation and pain. And finally a study on meditation and pain.

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Thoughts creating the experience of tiredness and hunger

I recently had a clearer experience of how thoughts create the experience of hunger and tiredness.

I went without food a few days, and the two times I thought I would eat soon I got very hungry. The rest of the time, not knowing when I would eat again, I felt fine. There were certain sensations in the body and stomach area, but it was not hunger.

At another time, I had the thoughts “I won’t get enough sleep” and “I need to be alert & rested”, and felt fatigued and tired. As soon as those thoughts went away, I felt fine.

With tiredness, I can see that the mind is a faithful servant to beliefs. There is the belief that I need to be rested, and may not get enough sleep, so I feel tired – which is how the mind supports me in finding rest and sleep.

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I spent an interesting night at the ER with kidney stones on the move. (Not out yet.)

And what comes up the most is gratitude… for modern medicine, hospitals, friendly and skilled staff, and being able to get there in just a few minutes from where I live. Very appropriate, since yesterday was Thanksgiving and I had explored what I have to be thankful for. 

I also noticed, and find an easy gratitude for, the pressure valves of pain… When it gets too intensive, the experience of it shifts. It becomes something else. And there are also the temporary and very welcome distractions through movement and sounds. 

And then finding myself with one foot in the world of what I am, and one foot in who I am. It all happened within clarity and a quiet joy. A clarity inherent in what is, independent of its content. A quiet joy inherent in any experience, independent of its content. And then the human self doing its thing, in excellent fashion, including twisting, grunting and moaning in pain. (And discovering that the child’s pose helps alleviate the pain, as does a hot water bottle on the painful area.)

I also got to notice what thought does with this. Coming home, I looked up kidney stones online (Wikipedia, Mayo Clinic, etc.) and realized that I do not fit the profile at all for having kidney stones. I drink lots of water daily. I use my body. There is no history of it in my near family. I have a low protein diet. I do not drink coke or other soft drinks. I am younger than what is typical. 

Up until reading this, I was fine with having kidney stones. It was just another adventure. But after reading it, the thought came up that I shouldn’t have them! Why me? I am doing everything “right” so why did I still get them? 

And then seeing the silliness of it, and a release. Kidney stones are guests, as anything else. Temporary. Inviting me to just experience, and also notice what is happening. 

Finally, the slight hesitation or apprehension coming up. The stone or stones are not out yet, so it is quite possible that I will experience that pain again as they move through or want to move through. And then appreciation for that too, because it is just the human self taking care of itself. It experienced something unpleasant, it may return, so it naturally is apprehensive. And that has a function. In this case, it helps me take the pain medication even if I currently don’t experience much pain.

What is not OK about this?

The question what is not OK about this can be used to find underlying beliefs for inquiry.

Another way to use that question is in daily life, whenever I notice even the slightest tendency to resist experience. I can ask myself what is not OK about this? What is not OK about what I am experiencing now? Or, if I see that there is something specific that is resisted, I can ask myself what is not OK about …?

In most cases, I find no reason and this invites in a shift of allowing experience as it is. Including resistance or whatever else may be there.

And if a reason comes up, I can ask the same question – what is not OK about …? And I can also investigate it more thoroughly through inquiry.

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Illness and knots

Several of my friends- myself included – were as sick as we had ever been this winter and spring, typically with some form of pnemonia. It turns out that there was a surprising number of shared experiences among us.

For instance, we all felt death very close and got to see how we relate to our mortality.

Another thing that happened is something I have seen for while. When the body-mind gets exhausted, for whatever reason, there is less energy for resisting experience. Whatever is habitually resisted in daily life tends to come up.

Knots line up and come through wanting to be seen, felt and loved. Knots made up of shoulds clashing with my stories of what is, and their associated emotions and supporting stories.

For me, it is an invitation to see it, feel it, and this may gradually shift into a sense of appreciation.

Illness and exhaustion is an opportunity for knots to surface. If I continue to resist them, the discomfort only deepens. But if I welcome them, as long lost relatives, it all shifts.

It is easier to inquire into the beliefs behind the knots, and fully allow and be with the emotions and experiences associated with them, inviting in a healing and softening of the knots and my relationship with them.

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Cloudiness and sense fields

I continue to explore the sense fields and how they combine to create gestalts, and in particular how thoughts combine with the other sense fields. (The sense fields: sound, sight, smell, taste, sensations, thoughts.)

I see how sensations combine with thoughts to create a sense of particular moods, emotions, pain, and much more.

Today, in the dentist’s chair, I noticed how particular sensations combine with thoughts to create a sense of discomfort. Seeing sensations as sensations and thoughts as thoughts, the gestalt loses its substance and sense of reality. The same happens when I bring attention to the sensations serving as anchor for the sense of discomfort. The gestalt cannot arise with any sense of substance when attention is brought to its anchoring sensation because the mechanism is seen through.

In the past, I have explored how sleepiness – for instance when it arises during practice – also is just a sensation combined with a thought.

And tonight, in exploring a sense of cloudiness, fuzziness, murkiness, I find that too as being made up of sensations and a thought.

In addition to all this, I also find that when there is an identification with any of these, it is as if a bulls eye for a sense of a separate I is placed on the sensations. They then not only serve as an anchor for the gestalt of an emotion, pain, discomfort, sleepiness, murkiness and so on, but also for the sense of an I with an Other.

And that is when, for instance, identity gets absorbed into the sleepiness or murkiness gestalt, and I fall asleep during practice, or the practice gets lost in murkiness.

Seeing all this, as it happens, allows the center of gravity to shift out of these sensations and gestalts. Now, I not only see how the gestalts are made up of sensations and thoughts, but the sense of a separate I is released out of them. (Either placed on other sensations, or seen through as awakeness itself.)

Now, they are objects happening within and as awakeness.

Working with body symptoms

I had an opportunity to explore ways to work with body symptoms last week, this time mainly just by fully allowing the experience, exploring the sense fields, and also resting attention on certain sensations.

Here are some ways of working with body symptoms…

  • Allowing the experience, in a wholehearted and heartfelt way, as they are, as if they would never change. Can I be with what I am experiencing right now? Bringing in the heart at times.
  • Resting attention on sensations, gently, stably, over some time. This is using body symptoms as an object for stability practice.
  • Exploring the sense fields, what is happening in each, and the gestalts that appear when they are combined. What is happening in sound, sensation, smell, taste and thought? How do thought combine with the other sense fields, such as sensations, to create certain appearances and gestalts? What happens when these appear solid, substantial and real? What happens when I notice how a thought combine with other sense fields to create those appearances?
  • Noticing the beliefs I have around body symptoms, health, disease, life, death, and inquire into them, finding what is already more true for me. (The Work.)
  • Finding myself as headless through the headless experiments. Am I the content of my experiences, or that which these experiences happens within and as?
  • Being curious about the process behind the symptoms, allowing it to unfold. What is left out of my conscious awareness that wants to be seen and included? (Process Work.)
  • Explore the voices that come up, such as the body, pain, illness, health, and so on. What do they have to say? How does the personality relate to them? How do they relate to each other? How does each one contribute to and help the human self? How can they do this in a simpler and more straight forward way? (Big Mind process.)
  • Deepening into empathy for myself and others. What I am experiencing now is universally human. Shared by all living creatures. We are all in this together. It is not (only) about me, but about us.
  • And then all the conventional ways of dealing with the symptoms or illness… going to the doctor, taking pills, changing diet, get more sleep, exercise, getting surgery, going to an acupuncturist, and so on depending on the situation.

As with anything else in life….

  • We can work with the content of it in a conventional way. In this case, going to the doctor, getting acupuncture, changing our health habits, and so on.
  • We can explore how we relate to it. Do I resist the experience? What happens if I more fully allow and stay with the experience? What happens if I bring attention to the symptoms in a stable and gentle way?
  • We can explore what is already more true for us about it. What are my beliefs around it? Are they true? What happens when I believe that? Who would I be without that belief? What is true in the reversals of my initial story?
  • We can allow it to work on us. When I fully allow experience, sincerely investigate beliefs, find myself as headless and so on, I can invite it to work on me, placing myself under it.
  • And we can use it as an invitation to notice what we already are. Am I the content of my experiences? These sensations, sounds, smells, tastes, thoughts that all live their own life, coming and going on their own time? Or am I that which these come and go within and as?

What is revealed beyond resistance

Emotions or sensations tend to appear very different when resisted and when allowed.

For instance, I notice when arrogance or resentment comes up, and is fully allowed, they shift into an open heart, empathy, care, compassion.

And really, all experiences seem to shift into the same… a sweet nurturing fullness, an open heart, a receptive view. The particular quality of the initial resisted experience may carry through or not, and if it does, flavoring the way it is revealed when fully allowed.

Arrogance includes a discernment which may carry through. When resisted, it is combined with a sense of being right, and when allowed, combined with an open heart and a sense of us. And this discernment can be more in the foreground or background following the shift, depending on where the interest is and what the situation calls for.

Anger has a dynamic energy and clarity which may carry through. Sadness a quited stability. Physical pain a stable fiery clarity.

And resentment shift into an open heart and a sense of intimacy, a recognition of myself in the other, a sense of us.

Reactive emotions maintain their appearance through resistance to experience, and reveal themselves as something quite different when fully allowed.

Anatomy of resistance

Resistance to experience is one of those things that seem so solid and substantial, but turns out to be ephemeral and even fall away (at least as something identified with) when seen more for what it is.

When I explore resistance to experience, I find…

  • Attention shifting to something else. Instead of being with the trigger (the circumstance) or what is triggered (emotions, tension), it continues on to stories about what is going on, or something entirely different. It may go to stories about something else, or I may create other sensory inputs that attention can go to, for instance by talking with someone, eat, or watch a movie. In other words, there is subtle and not-so-subtle distraction.
  • A good deal of drama is created from identification with the stories and resistance. There is a clash between my stories of what is and what should be, and from here there is a split into a sense of I and Other, and a dramatic relationship between them.
  • Behavior aimed at changing the situation. Such as the trigger, which is usually something in the world, a certain set of circumstances. The triggered, such as emotions and tension. Or even the triggering itself, the process of resistance, for instance through inquiry into the stories of what is and what should be, and a being with of whatever comes up in terms of images, sensations and emotions.

For instance, say there is physical pain.

I have stories of how (a) there is pain and (b) there shouldn’t be pain, and to the extent I take those stories as real and true, there is a clash between them. There is also a clash between what is and my image as someone who either is generally healthy, or at least should be healthy.

So now there is resistance to the pain.

My attention then goes away from the direct perception of the pain to stories about the pain, or to stories about something else, or to different sensations created by something I do (eat etc.)

This clash of stories creates a sense of drama around the whole situation, creating more emotions and physical tension.

And I may try to change the pain itself (by taking a pill), I may try to change the emotions triggered (by talking with a friend, go for a walk, watch a movie, eat good food), or I may try to change the triggering process itself (by examining my stories of what is and should be, or being with what is alive in immediate awareness in a heartfelt way).

The funny, or tragicomic, part about all this is that resistance accomplishes very little.

It is a safety valve of sorts, allowing some of the steam created by the clash of stories to be diffused, so in that sense it is very helpful, in the short term. And it can bring us to certain actions in the world, although these tends to come from a certain compulsiveness (from beliefs) so often have unintended and unpleasant side-effects.

Beyond that, nothing much is happening.

Resistance is very much a spinning of the wheels, leading to not much apart from a sense of drama and a rehearsal of the habit of resisting experience.

But we can also see resistance as an invitation to explore the whole process of resistance in more detail. We can explore our stories of what is and what should be (are they true?). And we can explore what happens when we allow attention to be with what arises, as it is, as if it would never change, and in a heartfelt way.

By exploring the stories, we may find what is already more true for us than those stories, which releases the grip on them. And by being with whatever arises, what we previously resisted may reveal itself as something entirely different than what we thought it was (for instance pain may be just sensation, and beyond that, dynamic and fluid and even have a sense of sweet fullness in it).

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Meditation in Action *

There is no doubt that it can be very helpful to take time out of the day for regular meditation/practice sessions, and also to take several days out of one’s schedule for a retreat.

And then there is meditation in action, practice distributed throughout our daily life. To me, this form of practice is more interesting right now, especially as it does not necessarily require any time beyond what I am already doing (in a way, it is practice for lazy and impatient people, for those of us who may be reluctant to set aside a lot of time every day, and especially don’t want to wait for these periods).

Some practices that I find very helpful in daily life, first those that do not take any extra time at all…


Douglas Harding’s headless experiments can be included and explored throughout daily life, during any activity. I work on the computer, I am on my bike, I eat, I am in a meeting, I watch a movie, I do Breema, and I can easily explore headlessness – notice that I am already headless in my own immediate experience. I am capacity for the world, that within and as which the world of phenomena – including this human self, happens. This shifts the center of gravity from the human self to seeing and beyond, into a taste of selflessness.


Another practice that can be seamlessly integrated in daily life is labeling. I note sensations, tastes/smells, sights, sounds and thoughts. And sometimes just sensations and thoughts, allowing each to live their own life. And sometimes just personality. That is the personality reacting, with its likes and dislikes, its habitual tendencies.

Seeing sensations as sensations, and thoughts as thoughts, allow each to live their own life. They don’t conglomerate into something else. And when they do, for instance into personality, then that can be labeled as well, at its own level.

All of this shifts the center of gravity from the human self to the seeing of it. It gives a sense of more space, of liberation from being blindly caught up in it.

Can I be with it?

Yet another practice which can be included seamlessly in daily life is asking myself can I be with what I am experiencing right now? I experience something that could be labeled pain, or sleep deprivation, or hunger, or stress, or confusion, or spaciness, or joy, or excitement – can I be with what I am experiencing right now?

Again, this shifts the center of gravity into the seeing, allowing the content to life its own life, to unfold in its own way. The experience is one of getting out of the way of the content.

Coming to the body

This shift also occurs through simply bringing attention to the body. To noticing the weight, movement or breath of the body, as it happens right now.

Of course, for each of these practices – headlessness, labeling, being with whatever is experienced and coming to the body, it does help to set aside some time in the beginning to become familiar with the process, and even to do so at any point where there is a break in the day.

Then there are practices that very much use the content of our daily life as fuel, and do require some time set aside, although often not much.

The Work

The inquiry practice from Byron Katie is one of these. Whatever happens during my daily life is fuel for finding clarity. The whole world is my mirror, in a very real and practical way.

Big Mind Process

The Big Mind process similarly uses our daily life and everyday mind as material for insights, for seeing what is already alive right here now, and how it is all manifestations of the Buddha Mind, Buddha Mind at work.

Resistance & Stomach Ache

I have been exploring resistance more lately, in many different ways and situations.

Some weeks back, I spent a few days in Seattle and woke up the second morning with a terrible stomach ache (from a meal the night before). It was very intense, and there was little – of the obvious things – that I could do to alleviate it.

I noticed that if I brought attention away from the pain, it increased and became almost unbearable. If I brought attention to it – being with it, meeting it – it softened and changed quality.

So with resistance, in the form of bringing attention to something else and telling stories about how it shouldn’t be there, it intensified. Allowing the resistance to fall away, the sensations softened and changed – into just a sense of fullness which I couldn’t place the label “pain” on even if I wanted.

Just another example of how life is my main (in reality only) guru, giving me what I need. And how the greatest secrets are right under our nose. Resistance to experience = sense of separation, fragmentation, I – Other, stress, discontent and suffering. Allowing resistance to fall away = sense of fullness, spaciousness and a quiet joy.

There are many other aspects to this as well.

Resistance and beliefs

Resistance seems to go along with beliefs. There is a belief that the current situation should be different, and there is resistance to experiences in the form of (a) attention brought elsewhere and (b) another story about the experience and its meaning (often “bad”).

So I can unravel the beliefs, for instance through The work. Or I can allow the resistance to the experience to fall away, meeting it with simplicity, asking myself can I be with what I am experiencing right now?

As Bhagavan says, anything fully experienced is bliss. That is certainly accurate in my experience, although the bliss so far – in my limited experience – is more of a quiet joyfulness which goes along with the fullness of the experience.

Maybe most simply, a belief and corresponding resistance to experience creates a sense of I and Other, and this inherently brings up discontent, alienation, stress, unease, suffering. Allowing beliefs to unravel and resistance to fall away, there is an absence of I and Other and a corresponding sense of fullness, being at home, quiet joy.

Two Aspects of Pain *

I find physical pain to be one of the most pure things to work with. It is a clean laboratory for exploring how the mind works.

Sensation without story

Byron Katie says that pain is always a story about the past.

Thoughts are always about the past or future, even as they appear to be about the present. They can never catch the Present. Whatever happens is gone before it can be reflected in a thought.

From being a sensation with a story, there is now – in seeing this – just a sensation. This sensation may be the same as before, but without the drama that comes with a story about it.

Sensation changing

In addition to this, I also notice that whenever I am with the experience of the pain – without the drama, the sensation itself tends to change. It takes on a different appearance. It moves from being – yes, painful, to something else.

Two levels

So there seems to be two distinct things happening.

First, the sensation is freed from the story about it, allowing the drama and struggle to fall away leaving the sensation as it is. Far more simple and harmless than the story about it.

Then, there is also the changing appearance of the sensation itself, when it is no longer resisted. It changes into something that – even if I wanted to – cannot really be labeled pain anymore.


Both of these may sometimes happen instantaneously as soon as there is recognition of pain. Especially if we are already familiar with these dynamics, if we are more initimate with this terrain.

If this is a new territory for us, it may take a little longer, and the ride may be more bumpy.

And if the pain is strong, or the belief in the story about the pain is strong, the ride may also be bumpy – even for those somewhat familiar with these dynamics. There is an invitation here to see the dynamics of it even more clearly, to be even more intimate with the terrain. To question and go beyond what we think we know.