some thoughts on mindfulness during an intense pain morning


It’s a bad Chrohn’s morning and I am home alone. I dislike being alone when it’s intense. When Matt is here, I can better release the sense of panic that can come with high levels of pain and body distress. His presence comforts me.

He helps me breathe when I am panting with the pain. The slower breathing also helps with emotional distress. Easing emotional distress over what is happening greatly improves the experience of pain.

I’m freezing and can’t warm up. I wrap multiple blankets and afghans around me to not much avail. My head is foggy, my thoughts racing furiously. It’s easier if the pain comes in waves. I can recover, like with childbirth pains. This morning it is unrelenting kind.

I feel a steel band tightening all across my mid and lower torso. But the pressure is pushing outward somehow. Like a fist contracting on an inward pressure. I work to keep my belly relaxed, my chest open, my breathing normal. I release the tension in my shoulders and face, try for the torso with a bit of success. The pain is somehow lessoned, but the tension continues to rise as the pain shouts. Again and again I release or at least try to.

My heart races, my head pounds. My body trembles and shakes. Pains in my chest and throat frighten me and again I struggle with panic. It’s hard to swallow. Hydrate, I tell myself. I take the long slow shuffle to the kitchen, my body curled in on itself, unable to straighten. Slow steps, cradling my belly to minimize the movement. I lean on the counter, exhausted. Try to drink, choke down a small sip. Nausea rises and the slow trip back is like being tossed on stormy waters.

I cannot distract myself. I’m not much for TV and it makes me seassick during these times anyway. Heartbreakingly, I can’t read either because of the nausea and an inability to focus. I try sitting on the porch, on the lovely spring morning. Too cold, freezing, freezing, (it’s 70 degrees).

Back inside. I do a calming meditation with Tara Brach. It’s hard to breathe, hard to be mindful when my reality is so distressing, but it helps. Still, after some time I begin to become overwhelmed again with the pain in my torso, the trembling, the spasms, throat pain, nausea, dizziness. I struggle to breathe slowly.

Moving into the bedroom, I turn on some peaceful flutes I use for body scan type relaxation. I light a wonderfully scented soy candle I often use for yoga practice. I can’t manage body scan type relaxation or even restorative yoga when things are this intense, but the scent and the sound bring a measure of comfort.

I know that mindfulness in this experience will help more than any other strategy or practice. But, like with yoga, mindfulness is difficult right now. It’s my own resistance to this experience that is causing me problems. Mindfulness asks me to interact with whatever is there with nonjudgmental awareness. Just this. Only this. There is an openness or receptivity with the experience that I am struggling with. Again, I work to slow my breath again and try to release tension and then I examine my experience.

I don’t want it! That is probably a natural reaction to suffering and pain. We automatically judge every single thing as good or bad. I like this, not that. I want this, not that. I will be happy when this happens, unhappy when that happens. Mindfulness is a way of stopping that warring with what is and just accepting each thought, each moment, each thing in my moment to moment experience with kindness and a sort of curiosity.

It’s a way for me to say, oh hello pain, my old acquaintance. Come in, sit, have a cup of tea. A nonjudgmental awareness that treats what is kindly. I put my hand on my heart and whisper inwardly, this is a moment of suffering. I offer myself compassion and love. I sit with my body in a less panicked way. Resistance to what is doesn’t make it not so. In a case like this, it makes it more so. Resistance to pain doesn’t help it lessen. It greatly adds to the suffering.

I remind myself that all of the thoughts and feelings accompanying this pain are not necessarily true. When I stop and give a tender, kind, and interested attention to my experience of pain, I am met with my resistance. This too, I whisper, and I feel a shift in perspective. My experience of this moment changes. Looking with curiosity at my resistance, I find a lot of aversion, a lot of “don’t wants”. I don’t want Chrohn’s, I don’t want this pain, I don’t want to be unable to work, I don’t want to be turning 60 this year, I don’t want to be sick,  I don’t want to die, I don’t want to lose those I love, I don’t want, I don’t want, I don’t want.

All of this resistance brings unhappiness, dissatisfaction, and contraction. Letting go of resistance, strangely, brings expansion.