Hi there dear Fleur, so this is weird, huh? While being ill for ten years you managed to avoid talking to the plants – even though you were and still are housebound and alone during the day. Now you are writing yourself a letter that is to be sent by mail!
These lines were part of my last homework of the mindfulness course Mindfulness for Health (UK title, You Are Not Your Pain is the US title) by Vidyamala Burch and Danny Penman. This was my first mindfulness course ever and it was supposed to take eight weeks. It took me twice that long, but I did not mind. I had been ill for so long, I knew I had a long way to come.
One of the essential aspects of Mindfulness for Health and the one I probably needed most was self-compassion. I was meditating for four years, therefore I knew I was worthy of love. However, until this course I had not realized this should include my own. I was supposed to love myself. Myself, with this troublesome body of mine? The body, being an unruly part of my life, was the only vehicle I had. I needed to include it with tenderness and care.
And instead of resisting my pain, fatigue and other difficulties, I was made to turn towards it: ‘Can you rest your awareness inside the breath as it rhythmically and gently moves the body? And now, with great tenderness, gently open your awareness to include your pain, discomfort, fatigue or difficulty of whatever kind you’re experiencing. Include it in you awareness with the kind of attitude that you would naturally have towards a loved one who was hurting or injured’ (from the Compassionate Acceptance Meditation).
The aversion of things bothering me every single day grew indeed less, but only after weeks. Being guided by the Body Scan Meditation (week 1) and the Compassionate Acceptance Meditation (week 4), I understood the need for letting go.
Thankfully, understanding the need for self-compassion turned out to be a huge leap in the long run, I was no longer locked into battle with life. And I could not have done it without the believe I was rewiring my brain.
Life is nothing more than a collection of moments, it is a loop of breathing in and breathing out. But when being ill, it is easy to forget about something as simple as the present moment. And that is obviously the main aspect of mindfulness, hence also Vidyamala Burch and Danny Penman endorse this when it comes to dealing with pain. With loads of statistics backing up their theory, they explain the difference between two sorts of pain.
Firstly, there is Primary suffering. ‘Primary pain tends to arise from illness, injury or damage to the body or nervous system.’ (p. 6) This is about the raw data between the body and the brain.
Secondly, the Secondary suffering is more complicated. It forms an extra layer of pain, but is not triggered by the mentioned raw date. It amplifies the real pain and the pain you feel is still very real. ‘It’s important to emphasise that Secondary pain is real. You do genuinely feel it. It’s only called Secondary pain because it is the mind’s reaction to Primary pain and has been heavily processed before you consciously feel it.’ (p. 7) The secondary layer of pain is caused by worries or frantic thoughts that keep repeating themselves: why is this happening? How come it repeats itself? I wish it would just go away.
Again, the participant of this course is intended to turn towards either the pain or the accompanying worries. And to understand he or she need not suffer. I understood there was no point in going over my frustration of being ill again and again, nor worrying about future problems. All I was told to do was following the breath all the way in and all the way out, and realizing that this is as long as a thought is present. It comes into being and passes away, moment by moment. Just like the breath.
Far more can be said about Mindfulness for Health. Achieving self-compassion, and decreasing suffering and pain by rewiring my brain were just the two most significant aspects for me personally. Apart from that this course also attends to the danger of a boom-and-bust-cycle, to the importance of pleasure and might assist you with pacing if your body is up to that.
In all honesty I can conclude that I have lost it. Well…, at least a bit. No, I have not lost my marbles or body weight. I can proudly state I have lost the unnerving urge to ask myself ‘why,’ in case of difficulties or bad moments. Alas, I cannot say I am free of frustrations, worrying sometimes still overwhelms me. Also, the why-question still pops up from time to time, but it does not matter. What matters is that I am aware. And usually, sometimes even with a smile, I can distance myself from it.
If only I had the chance to write a similar letter to Vidyamala Burch. With her calming and stimulating voice she seems sincere and intending for the best for me – and other listeners, of course – when she mentions well wishing in one of her guided meditations.
Dear Vidyamala, I am grateful for your book Mindfulness for Health. It made a difference to adjust to my circumstances and made me understand that it is impossible to reason with pain and fatigue, but that there is indeed another way around it.
Thank you for not getting me to talk to my plants. Instead, when I feel like it, I observe them mindfully – taking in their colors and perhaps smell, texture – moment by moment by moment.
With kindness and full of well wishing, Fleur
Quotes correspond with the pages of the e-book. The e-book includes links to the guided meditations on the internet. Mindfulness for Health/You Are Not Your Pain is also available as paperback with cd’s and as an audiobook.
This post is also available in: Dutch