Learning to disentangle my feelings from my physical challenges
Written by Samira Rajabi, a buddhify user since 2012
My chronic pain comes from a brain tumor called an acoustic neuroma. While these are typically benign tumors, they can still wreak havoc on the body by crushing important structures of the brain. Even after nearly a dozen surgeries, I’ve had to endure the loss of my balance nerve on one side, the complete loss of hearing, and continued constant headaches, muscle aches, and back pain.
As I work hard every day in physical therapy and trauma therapy to deal with the consequences of my health trauma, my meditative journey has been essential to my pain management.
When my pain ramps up, I am often not in a place where I can or want to medicate myself and sleep it off, so I look to meditation.
My pain is very much tied up in fear and meditation has fundamentally changed the way I disentangle my feelings from my physical challenges.
Once when I was in the hospital awaiting a procedure for a spinal tap, I had a horrible headache come on. The stress of the anticipation, combined with the procedure prep on my body had left me tense, afraid, and in very real pain. I cried out to my mom and my partner that I could not continue forward on this path. Even through all my tears, I knew this procedure was important to guiding my next steps and that I had to endure it.
The pain had amplified and I was losing strength — I felt stuck as I writhed around on the gurney. In desperation, my partner encouraged me to try doing a meditation. I began to quiet my breathing, to let go of my attachment to the results of this moment, to accept my inability to control this pain, and to allow it to exist in a space of unknown future. Not knowing how long this pain would last, I was able to open up space for the possibility that it may not last long at all, at least not in its severity. This mindful approach enabled me to be brave and keep going.
I find it very beneficial to “get out of my head” — meaning to get out of the spiral of fear pain can cause, and instead note what my body is actually doing. There have been many situations where I’ve noted the pounding in my head, the pulsating of the muscles in my neck. Though these sensations certainly give me pause, as I attempt to regulate my breath and release my fixation on how bad it hurts, the pain and breathing form a rhythm of their own.
At times, the practice of noting my pain and naming a realistic aspiration has moved me to tears in the best way. While the pain is still there, I become less fixated on it, I stop worrying so much about it. I remember that my aspirations are small and simple. “I can continue to exist in my life, even as I allow my pain to exist.”
I have released myself from the constant need to fix my pain and instead I am sort of walking alongside it.
This helps me focus less on fixing my body, and more on accepting it and letting the pain run its course. In finding comfort in the unknown, I have also found acceptance of my body. I have released myself from the constant need to fix my pain and instead I am sort of walking alongside it.
Meditation has not been my only saving grace, but it’s been a big one. When my pain ramps up, I am often not in a place where I can or want to medicate myself and sleep it off, so I look to meditation. I push myself to integrate it into my life.
With mindfulness, I can typically interrupt the pain cycles before they hit. I like to meditate when I walk home from work, to make sure I don’t bring home the stress of the day; in the morning, so I wake up energized and calm; and while I walk my pups, since that’s an activity that had previously triggered headaches.
I now find myself unphased by the frenetic energy of the city and the frantic energy of my heart beating fast against my chest when my pain comes on. My practice helps me be calm and calm just helps chronic pain, so even when my meditation is not directly about my pain, it’s always about my pain and I’m finding a space for healing in all of it.
Samira Rajabi is based in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. She has found the technique introduced in Care (Pain & Illness) to be extremely helpful.
If you feel you have learnt something important through your meditation practice and you’d like your share your insight or experience, we’d love to hear from you. Let Dana know via [email protected] and she’ll get in touch.