Meditation Instructions – Part IV

Running Time: 4:16

In this video, I want to give you some tips for how to work advantageously with discomfort and pain during your meditation practice, because it’s very common to experience some discomfort while meditating. Even if you do everything you can to make your posture comfortable, the fact is that the human body simply wasn’t designed for prolonged periods without movement. It’s going to get uncomfortable at some point.

So, how can you use that to develop your mindfulness? How can you use pain and discomfort to go deeper in your practice?

There’s actually a few ways to do this. I’m going to show you one of them here in this video, and I’ll show you another, more intense version next week.

The key to transforming pain and discomfort from a distraction into an opportunity to develop mindfulness is to leave content behind and focus only on process.

What do I mean by that?

Well, what you want to do is take everything that you are aware of and objectify it. Turn it into a process that you observe. Your job is to observe the processes that occur in your moment by moment conscious experience and see how they arise, how they change and how they pass away. You observe their qualities and their features from all angles, but you completely disregard their content.

Here’s an example to make this more concrete, that shows you a way to work with any pain or discomfort that arises during your meditation practice.

Let’s say you’re meditating and you feel a pain in your knee. You note the pain as a bunch of physical sensations that have a particular location, that extend over a particular area, that have a particular intensity. You do your best to note each individual physical sensation associated with the pain as it arises. Some of these are prickly, some are warm, some feel dully and achy, others are stabbing, and so on. Notice the hedonic tone of these sensations. Many of them will be easy to identify as unpleasant, and you’ll be able to observe your resistance to these sensations, your desire for them to go away.

But, if you’re attentive enough, you’ll also — notice that many of the sensations that you losely categorized under the concept of “pain” are actually neutral, and some are even pleasant.

You’ll also want to mentally label any thoughts you have about these various sensations, and see if you can discern their particular representation (such as spoken words, images or kinaesthetic feelings). The thought may be “this knee pain is killing me, I better move before I injure myself”, but you just observe that thought as a process that starts with the word “this” and ends with the word “myself”. Or, if you are more skilled, you observe it as a series of processes, one for each word, or even for each syllable, and you treat each as simply a mental sound.

You don’t engage with the meaning of the thought. You just know that thinking is occurring.

Of course, at any time, if the discomfort becomes too much, you can choose to move your body to make yourself more comfortable. That’s fine. There’s no problem with that.

When you decide to move your body, you first try to note the intention to move, and then — note all the physical sensations you can that are associated with the movement itself.

Ideally, you want to treat all sensations as equal. Feeling, hearing, thinking and so on, all just sensations. None more important than the other. All equally interesting. Each a process that arises and passes on it’s own, without you needing to do anything. Just observing them all like an ever-changing flow in the mind. This will help you to use pain and discomfort as an opportunity develop greater equanimity and deepen your mindfulness.