Turn Towards The Pain
guest post by Leila Nabors, M.Ed., LPC
I am always amused when I hear someone talk about mindfulness and meditation as if they are “the cure” for what ails you, the magic bullet. Like, if you meditate your stress goes away, your illness goes into remission, chronic pain goes away, and all will be right with the world. Wouldn’t that be lovely?
Unfortunately, that is not the case. What I do know, is that mindfulness practice, which for me includes mediation, can play an extremely important role in how we meet the difficulties we encounter in life, including stress, illness, our own mortality, chronic pain and distress in relationships.
My journey with mindfulness began when I was diagnosed with a somewhat obscure lung disease that was treated with high doses of prednisone.
If you have ever been on prednisone for a prolonged period, you know that it can be a highly successful treatment protocol but can also involve a host of side effects.
The side effects that were most difficult for me were sleep disruption and a sense that my insides were vibrating or shaking ALL the time. Some people call that irritability and I would definitely agree that I was irritable!
Around the time I was diagnosed, I found Jon Kabat-Zinn’s book Full Catastrophe Living. As the book suggested I began practicing different forms of meditation and gentle yoga.
At first, it did not seem to help, and it was very difficult for me to stick with the practices suggested in the book. But I was pretty miserable and the author encouraged the reader to trust the process and keep practicing, so I pressed on.
I’m not sure when but at some point something shifted for me. The agitation was still there, and my sleep was still disturbed but I was no longer so distressed by these experiences. I noticed that in the midst of all my mental chaos there were moments of relative calm. Although I still had difficulty with sleep, I now felt equipped to deal with it.
When my lung disease returned after tapering off prednisone, I was already signed up for a 7-day mindfulness course with Jon Kabat-Zinn at Omega Institute in New York. It was there that I was first invited to turn toward the restlessness, agitation and irritability with curiosity.
Could I be with the feelings and sensations in my body and not push them away. Could I even be curious about them? What would it be like to “turn toward” these sensations even a little bit?
Can you sit with the sensations and feelings of your body and your mind without pushing them away? What would it be like to turn towards them just a little bit? Click To Tweet
As I began to bring curious awareness to my agitation and irritability, the tight hold they held on me began to ease just the slightest bit. The feelings of agitation and irritability were still there, but I was able to notice them and laugh at a joke, enjoy a beautifully prepared meal or appreciate a gorgeous sunset.
It was in one of those moments of awareness that I realized how much energy I had been using to try to distract myself or push these unpleasant feelings away. When I stayed with the physical and/or emotional pain that I was experiencing it didn’t seem as overwhelming as I feared. Again, there was a subtle shift.
Much later I learned about the science behind meditation practice and that meditation is associated with changes in the brain that may have impacted these “shifts”.
When I gently turned toward the pain, I noticed the experience of “my pain” was often different. The agitation, restlessness, irritability and discomfort were still there but my relationship to them was changing.
When I gently turned toward the pain, I noticed the experience of “my pain” was often different. The agitation, restlessness, irritability and discomfort were still there but my relationship to them was changing. Click To Tweet
I was no longer bracing against and tightening my whole body. I began to notice a relaxing or easing of tension. This was something I could build on!
So, yeah I am amused by claims that mindfulness is a “magic bullet.” This journey toward healing and wholeness is and always will be (for me anyway) a daily endeavor. My mindfulness practice did not “fix” me because I was never broken, although I felt/feel like it at times.
Mindfulness is not a magic bullet. It will not heal you. It won't fix you. But, it can help you learn to cope with your illness in a way that helps you feel better. Click To Tweet
What I have learned through my practice is a different way of being with all the experiences of my life, the good, the bad, and the very ugly. And while there have been moments that seemed nothing short of miraculous, it is worth noting that I had to find the courage to show up for the not so miraculous moments too. Yep, this “turning toward” stuff is scary, but, you are stronger that you know.
About Leila Nabors, M.Ed., LPC
In addition to her private practice as a psychotherapist, Leila is a founder of the Alabama Institute for Mindfulness. She the only certified teacher of Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) in the state of Alabama. Leila studied Dr. Jon Kabat-Zinn who developed Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction in the late 1970’s at the University of Massachusetts Medical School. After six years of training and practice, she received certification as a Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction teacher.
Note from Julie – I met Leila when I took her MBSR course in 2017. I learned a lot from this course and through working directly with Leila. I am thankful to her for sharing her wisdom here.
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