Forest Sangha Newsletter January 2001

Touching the Meaning; Ajahn Sucitto
Working with Pain; Sister Thanasanti
View from the Hill; Ajahn Munindo
House Builder; Ajahn Candasiri

Working with Pain
From a talk given by Sister Thanasanti during a retreat at the Angela Center in Santa Rosa, California.

Having spent the day speaking with different people and getting a little bit of a sense where people are in their practice, there are some themes which emerge. One of the themes which emerges is pain: how to work with pain, how to be at ease with pain. A fundamental problem is that we have the expectation that there shouldnít be any pain; and that when there is, something has gone wrong.

Most of our lives weíre very good at being able to move and to adjust and to shift around, so that we donít have to feel pain acutely. So when we put ourselves in a situation like a retreat we can get a little bit stuck. We come into the shrine room and we sit, and the idea is not to move until the bell rings. So thereís the pain in the body to work with -- or the pain of the heart; and how can we work with that?

There are many skilful means that we can come up with. Thereís the skilful means of working with the breath -- relaxing in the breath. Thereís the skilful means of knowing where to place oneís attention. We may be experiencing something that feels extremely unpleasant -- yet there are ways of placing the attention that support a gentle embracing of that experience.
We wake up and we see the relationship between the body and mind, between the body and the breath.

Sometimes one can put oneís attention right in the very centre of the pain and, after a period of time, discover that itís not pain -- itís just sensation. The quality of unpleasantness can completely disappear, oneís just dealing with the energy. When that happens thereís a nice sense of freedom because there isnít the resistance thatís associated with pain because it isnít pain any longer -- itís just experience.
Sometimes we can see that the pain isnít actually connected to the body, even though thatís where we experience it. Itís actually coming from a place of tightening, of resistance or fear. So then we explore the mind, and look and see how the mind is actually manifesting itself into the body -- how weíre experiencing the mind, in the body, as pain. There are all these things that we can know, that we can discover. In the discovery of opening to something like this, thereís a waking up. We wake up and we see the relationship between the body and mind, between the body and the breath. We see the relationship around things that are fearful, or that we resist.

So thereís a freedom that comes with just hanging out with knees that hurt. The freedom is that one doesnít need to be threatened by pain, or to be bullied by it, or to be pushed around by it. Itís OK. We can just experience it. Itís not a problem. So pain is something that we can take as a curse, or something we can take as a teacher. It can be an opportunity to open our hearts to something that is difficult.

When weíre meditating we sometimes have this feeling that we can just block out the pain. We can do that with physical pain -- and also with the pain in our heart. However, when we do that, meditation can become a way of dissociating from life.

So learning how to open up to that which is difficult, and that which is frightening, and that which is unpleasant is part of the work weíre doing. Itís not inspiring work; itís not the kind of stuff that one gets all jazzed up about -- but it is very powerful work, and very liberating. When weíre able to live in the world in a way where weíre not frightened and weíre not pushed around by fear, and we donít resist pain, then we have the courage to stand and face whatever it is that we need to face.

Thatís a wonderful freedom -- and there are times when it can actually make a difference.