Meditation to Heal Pain and Stress
The subject of meditation has become increasingly popular in recent years, due to increased exposure in the news media and other public access resources. Yet, with all of the fanfare, meditation is still a mystery to the vast majority of the general public. This is certainly unfortunate, because the benefits received from the practice of meditation in the body’s healing process has been overwhelmingly documented by medical research in the last five years. For example, MBSR (Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction) has been successfully adapted by more than 30 medical centers in the United States alone, in the year of 2005.
Moreover, the most recent scientific studies of mind over body clearly establish the construction of a ‘gentle bridge’ between Eastern meditation and Western science. In depth research, revealing a puzzling correlation between mental training and its affect on changing actual brain structure and brain function, supplements the deeper subjective experience of an individual committed to the practice of meditation. After 25 centuries, the empirical science of traditional meditation meets natural science.
Below is a personal, first hand account of the role that Dharma therapy played in the healing of my own challenges with pain and stress. Before sharing these experiences, there are several concepts that need to be explained and understood prior to touching on the principles of healing therapy.
Dharma-- defined as the nature of natural phenomena naturally happening in the present moment, here and now. The Dharma exists everywhere accordingly to the universal law of nature, is in everything at all times (no beginning-no end). The Dharma nature is beyond and independent of religious faith. Each religion uses different words to define this nature, but they all have the same meaning; Dharma in Buddhism, Tao in Taoism, God in Christianity. The essence of these terms each expresses the sense of revelation of nature and one-ness in natural science. The Dharma cannot be seen with the eye. The naked eye is simply too slow to see the fast movement of the natural phenomena. Consequently, it is so difficult to learn and practice the Dharma. However, our mind--the one who knows--can be trained to see and to experience the nature. That is why meditation is coming into the picture.
Meditation-- the practice of Dharma in progressing order, in essence, is a skill of mental training that explores the potential of mental power. Use the mind as a powerful instrument to experience the Dharma nature in two ways simultaneously and together; first by ‘seeing’ with the mind’s eye, and then with ‘knowing’ by awareness, insight or wisdom from the power of nature. At the end, the purpose of meditation is all about learning how to use the power of nature.
Pain/Stress-- In the common sense, is a form of physical sensation, a state of natural phenomena in the body at the gross or subtle levels. Pain can be utilized as an effective training tool, using it as a meditation object so that its nature may be understood. There are many meditation teachers who describe pain as a student’s best friend, because understanding the nature of pain helps the student to learn its true reality.
Principles of Dharma Therapy
The fundamental principle of Dharma therapy, simply put, is to focus on seeing into the nature of pain. All things, including pain and mental activity in the body, manifest their nature in a constant change, dynamic in flux from moment to moment and process to process. These changes, and the phenomena associated with these processes, are simply too fast and subtle for our naked eye to perceive.
For those people who have never practiced mental training, pain is experienced superficially at its appearance, such as a swollen mass, a sore, a cut--any common physical attribute associated with pain. Since they are unable to see into the subtle nature of pain, they can only experience the dynamics of pain on the most grossest appearance level as a real pain. Without being able to dissect the pain into its moment to moment occurrences, they form a false perception of the pain process. This is called delusion by not seeing clearly what is happening in the present moment.
For the trained, purified mind, the insight received from a mind at peace becomes very sensitive and sharp. This insight is able to pierce into the painful event and see into its true nature. At this level, the pain does not manifest itself as superficial pain anymore; rather it decays and breaks down into very subtle physical sensations that are in constant change. The pain becomes a flow of fine particles that flux and move inside the entire body. This flow transforms into energy and then disappears into darkness. The nature of all things arises and passes away, or they come and go from moment to moment. Any phenomenon that arises is bound to disappear. It is the way of the power of nature to take care of the pain naturally, all by itself.
Direct Experience with Dharma Therapy and Pain
A beginner may suffer from physical pain during sitting meditation. The initial reaction to the pain may be one of fear and avoidance (aversion). A mental chain reaction begins, and the fear of more pain creates more aversion to the pain (mental suffering), and eventually the beginner may form an attachment to the pain by yield to the mental habit, thereby causing the chain reaction to continue in the inner world, leading only to more pain and suffering. The whole process is like adding fuel to fire.
In time, with practice and with gained insight at the thinking level, one can begin to disconnect all of the old mental habits and attachments that used to be relied upon when pain arose. The beginner will learn to stop labeling a painful event as ‘my pain’. After a time, one will learn slowly how not to personally become involved with the pain, and become a mere observer instead of a player. This practice, over time, allows a student to break old mental chain reactions, and after a while pain begins to gradually disappear. There may be a period where the pain may arise and pass away in an ongoing tug-of-war. In my direct experience, one day the pain simply vanished, and in next six years, pain never reoccurred in any of my sitting meditations, no matter how long I sat in each session.
Daily use of the computer can easily lead to a build up of stress in the upper back and shoulders. During the first intensive retreat of my life in Italy, 1999, the stress in
my shoulders suddenly overwhelmed me in the form of very intense body sensations, and prompted me to use them as my primary meditation object. The insight observation of this particular kind of stress became very interesting. The pain sensations revealed themselves as two wheels spinning together as a pair, and as they were spinning, they squeezed inward and pulled outward in unison.
Five years ago, after I gave up playing golf in order to better pursue my love of meditation, I began to develop chronic spinal back pain. This pain became a daily problem. By apply the practice of Dharma therapy to the condition, and I did this the first thing in the morning, everyday for at least 30 minutes. While lying in bed I purposely aggravated the pain by twisting lower trunk of the body sideways. I then applied the skills I learned at the intensive retreats into my daily challenges; relax the body...soften the mind...see the pain in the spinal back as a flow of particles inside the entire body. The particles transform into energy as they turn into light emitting, and then the particles disappear into darkness.
Using the practice of Dharma therapy to see into the nature of pain and disease is the best medicine, and this medicine from the power of nature doesn’t cost a single penny. There’s no need to worry about adverse side effects from taking the medicine. Mind and body wellness is a natural by-product of the practice of meditation. The healing of pain is just a small example of its benefits. There are also cases of cured tumors, and cancers put into remission after attending long, intensive retreats.
In reality, physical pain and stress are always associated with mental suffering. When you become aware of negative emotions in your daily life, apply the principles of Dharma therapy by seeing into the nature of the mental event. Once you focus and clearly note the nature of the negative emotion, it will disappear. Compared to physical pain, the healing of mental suffering will take more deeply developed mental skills of concentration and sharpened mindfulness to do the job. Once you are skillful and can successfully witness how all things arise and pass away, you will be astounded at how powerful and magical it is to have developed the skillful mental quality of mindfulness. Learning how to use the power of nature to heal mental defilements, to attain a good heart, and to find permanent happiness from the end of mental suffering is an ultimate goal in the practice of the Dharma.
Reality of Nature
All things are not a thing, But a mere process of change.
Be thankful and grateful to the following seamless team work in a process of hard labor to produce this article:
Steven Christopher in English editing, Teresa Chen in Chinese translation, and Mandy Huang in Chinese typing.