We often think of kindness as something we extend to others to soothe their mental or physical suffering, and to help restore their sense of well-being and happiness. But we generally don’t consider the equal power of being kind to ourselves. In fact, we are normally the last person we consider being kind to. Imagine being able to soothe yourself and your own pain. Wouldn’t you then become a kinder person overall?
I have recurring headaches that can last for days due to a neck injury. What I have learned from meditating with my own physical pain is that pain comes in two forms. The first is the actual pain itself, whether from sickness, a chronic condition, or injury. The other part of pain is the mental and emotional distress we experience. Everyone naturally has an aversion to pain. We may fear the pain or its recurrence, try to push it from our minds, or use unhealthy responses such as numbing pain with alcohol.
In mindfulness meditation we attempt to connect with what is now. Usually we use the breath to connect our physical body and mind to the present moment. Noticing what exists right now for us.
This is the first step to healing through meditation. Although the process can take many forms, first we must be present and tuned into how we are.
This process is accompanied with detachment from our own judgement and a sense of curiosity. For me this would mean lying down on my bed or on a mat, making sure I was comfortable and warm, and noticing my breath. Is it shallow? Can I breathe more deeply? Can I lengthen my breaths?
The next step, would be to scan the body for tightness, pain, or whatever is present. It helps me to imagine I’m examining something besides myself, to be somewhat detached. Once the area of pain is noted, we do something very strange.
We don’t try to fix it. We let ourselves feel that pain. Build a mental image of it, let it grow, feel what is going on in your body and mind in all its intensity. This is how we begin to acknowledge our pain and not push it down or fight it. We let ourselves truly feel it, and any associations that pain may have for us. We can even assign it names or describe it.
Once we have allowed ourselves to feel our pain and examined it, we can begin the process of relieving it. And this process is relaxation. There are different techniques, but I generally focus on a completely relaxing, beautiful, and stress-free visualization. You may imagine yourself floating in cool water, with the sun on your face, or whatever makes you feel relaxed. You can imagine a darkened room, with the smell of the sea drifting in on the breeze, revelling in the most comfortable bed and sheets and comforters. A cup of tea. Smells. Sensations.
Make your experience of relaxation as real as possible. Are there trees? What kind? Are they swaying in the wind? Maybe you have trouble imagining everything but can remember a feeling of complete relaxation in your life. Soak yourself in this experience of soothing relaxation.
You can set a timer with music or peaceful sounds, or you can follow a guided meditation. When you are ready, you may begin to feel yourself returning to your body after treating it to a sense of comfort and ease. Or you may fall asleep. It doesn’t matter.
What matters is how you feel when you come back into the present moment and your body. Can you feel a loosening? Perhaps a quiet or calm? What is your pain level now? Has it changed?
What you have done is not magic. You didn’t cure your illness, but you have removed the second element of physical pain, the avoidance and all the stress that comes when we push away negative feelings. We have listened to what our body is trying to tell us, to rest and to relax. We have felt our pain, and then shown ourselves kindness by giving comfort and ease to our body.
I practice this method with my headaches. I used to be so pain adverse that I wanted to pound my head against a wall to make them stop. I still feel that way. But through this meditation technique, I have been able to calm my screaming nerves, and given myself a break from the pain. Maybe enough to have a wonderful nap. Or to refresh myself before dinner. Before bed.
It doesn’t matter when or how or for how long you practice this method. What matters is that you have given your mind and body just a few moments of kindness. If we can make tea or be there for someone else in pain, why shouldn’t we tend to ourselves? By doing so, we can be better able to show up for others and for life.
If you’re interested in trying this type of meditation, you can search Spotify, your music or podcast platform, Google or YouTube for terms like “guided meditation for healing/pain” or “guided relaxation for pain.” All I can say is that this technique helps me, and hope you will try it and that it helps you be a bit kinder to yourself, learn to listen to your body, and soothe yourself for a better quality of life.
– JL ✌🏼💚🖖🏼
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