Home' Nova National : August 2010 Contents In my previous article, I introduced
the Buddhist concept of mindfulness.
This is an ancient meditation practice
to train oneself to live in the present
moment, and to become totally aware
of what is around us and inside us at all
Eastern therapies practitioner Olivier Lejus continues his
exploration of the power of mindfulness.
times. All too often we are unaware of
the mechanisms that condition us to react
the way we do. We have little control over
our behaviour, and struggle to alleviate
well developed negative patterns that have
been with us for many years.
Mindfulness allows us to withdraw
and observe our emotional response,
and change the way we react. This is
only possible if we are aware of what is
happening at all times. The practice of
mindfulness can also help people with
conditions such as depression, anxiety
or cancer. This has been demonstrated in
research using brain imaging which shows
that meditation increases both the level
of antibodies and left sided brain activity,
which is associated with positive emotional
states. It is a model of meditation, which
has been adopted with great success by
chronic pain sufferers.
Thousands of years ago, Buddha
first told the story of the two arrows to
explain the different response of a wise
person and an ordinary person when
confronted with pain. The onset of pain
was akin to being hit by an arrow, he said.
This first arrow represented the primary
pain and then, as our response to the
pain kicked in, we inflicted ourself with a
second arrow by responding to the initial
onset with distressing emotions such as
fear, anxiety, grief or anger, which just
caused a mass of additional suffering.
According to the Buddha, a wise person
experiencing a painful feeling didn't
agonise or feel distraught. So while the
physical pain remained, the mental pain
didn't follow, and the suffering was greatly
Trying to cope by resisting pain or
seeking distraction from it was doomed to
fail, the Buddha said. Instead, the solution
lay in accepting the fact that suffering was
a part of our existence, and thus in
observing the physical experience without
trying to change it.
While to us, these emotional
responses often seem appropriate and
understandable, these reactions become
more problematic once they start to
dominate us. It becomes the secondary
arrow that we inflict on ourselves. In other
words, the resistance to pain becomes the
major cause of suffering and distress, not
the pain itself.
This is especially true in the case
of chronic pain sufferers, who can be
confronted with a lifetime of suffering.
While at first this may sound like an
unrealistic concept to somebody who is
in constant pain, training workshops with
chronic pain sufferers have shown that
by dispelling the fear, by avoiding being
locked into a pattern of aversion and
distraction, by changing our approach and
instead, concentrating on the quality of
30 © NOVA AUGUST 2010
'In other words, the resistance to pain becomes the major cause
of suffering and distress, not the pain itself.'
the pain, its texture and location, we can
see it for what it is, instead of what we
imagine it to be. As a result, we can
significantly diminish its impact and
improve our quality of life.
The first stage of mindfulness is
becoming more aware of what is happen-
ing at the moment. It is concentrating our
attention on the myriads of pleasurable
sensations that we are experiencing at the
same time -- the smells, the sounds, and
the tactile sensations of the clothes on our
skin. It is looking at life with a wide lens
vision, instead of being narrowly focused
on our suffering. We soon realise that
inside our world of pain, they are still many
wonderful sensations for us to discover.
The sun still rises every day, the birds are
still singing ...
Nevertheless, learning to face our pain
is an essential step. It is common for long
term sufferers to resist it by blocking it or
drowning it with diversions. One needs to
overcome this resistance which is often
greater than the pain itself. This is where
breathing exercises become useful. A
normal reaction when confronted with
lasting aches is to alter our breathing
pattern, so we take shallow breaths to
In the case of chronic pain, this
gradually becomes a habit which causes
muscular tension in our chest, and
aggravates our suffering. Instead, one
is encouraged to direct the full breath
towards the source of the pain, while
relaxing into the out breath. While this
exercise will not change the primary
pain, the secondary layers of tension and
resistance that have been building up will
soon start to dissolve. In addition, other
physical exercises based on yoga or tai chi
can be gradually incorporated, according
to the person's capabilities.
Also, as we become more aware of
the way we respond to pleasant and not
so pleasant sensations, it becomes easier
to broaden our horizon and identify with
other people's experience. This can be
especially useful for chronic pain or illness
sufferers, since it is easy to believe that
one's pain is unique. The very thing which
tends to isolate us can then become a
source of connection with others. After all,
everyone has experienced some degree
of pain, to a greater or lesser extent.
The final article on this topic will
appear in next month's issue.
Olivier Lejus MHSc. (TCM), BHSc. (Acup.)
is an accredited acupuncturist practising in Sydney.
Eastern therapies practitioner Olivier Lejus continues
his exploration of the power of mindfulness.
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