The Language of Healing
How to use intuition to help relieve pain.
BY: Dr. Judith Orloff
The use of breath for pain relief is hardly alien to Western culture. Based on the principles of Lamaze-which helps laboring mothers breathe through childbirth-we stop resisting pain and develop compassion for our bodies.
Here is a meditation I suggest based on a Buddhist exercise called Tonglen.
Relax into the discomfort. Don't try to rid yourself of it. Just let the pain be.
Visualize your discomfort. Does it have color? Texture? Emotion? Ask the discomfort, "How can I ease my pain?"
Focus lightly on the pain. Feel it completely. As you inhale, breath all your pain in. Visualize it as a cloud of dark smoke. Let it flow through your body. Now picture every last bit of your pain purified by love. As you exhale imagine love as a clear white light. Send it back to the area of pain. Breathe in pain. Breathe out compassion. Breathe in pain. Fill the pain with the healing breath of compassion.
For most of us the premise of this meditation is radical. It says that by actively engaging pain, we can transmute it, a form of mystical alchemy never to be misconstrued as succumbing to weakness or admitting defeat. Harmonizing with pain will relieve it, not make it worse.
Intuition can help you act quickly on acute pain. Perhaps you're going to discover you have appendicitis. The first signs are agony, curled in a fetal position on your bed. Your body is sending out a frantic intuitive SOS. Something's really wrong. The quicker you listen and head for the emergency room, the quicker the problem will be diagnosed and solved. You find you need surgery and there's no way out. Next thing you know, you wake up in recovery, sans appendix. You made it. Your acute pain obviously had a purpose. It got you to the hospital, fast. Acting on your body's intuition can prevent the excruciating pain and potentially fatal complications of a ruptured appendix. I've worked with stoic or macho patients who've needlessly endured severe pain and suffered dangerous consequences. Part of loving ourselves and honoring intuition is to heed the "danger" messages we receive. Sometimes, in cases like appendicitis, when you yourself can't improve or repair the pain, intuition gives you the message to get help.
Some pain is short lived. You have it. It is treated and then gone. Even with this kind of pain, however, there's no question that informed attention is an asset. From the onset of a health crisis, focus your intuition. Pay attention to what your gut says and listen to your inner voice. This can get you past all-too-human resistances. For instance, people frequently die of heart attacks, failing to heed the warning of their angina. Intuition combats denial. By turning into pain, you'll get a more incisive take on how to deal with it.
Along with listening to intuition, there is a different strategy and that's lovingkindness. It's especially helpful with chronic pain, but is important in acute situations, too. Whatever your situation, the lovingkindness approach never fails. It involves conscious softening. Releasing resistance and fear. Not forsaking the body. This is where you begin.
So often in medicine we have it backwards. We attempt to repair the body without consulting it. Pain has its own language, intelligence, and rhythm. Pain is absolutely alive. It will speak to you, not in the usual sense but on an intuitive level. My patient Meg is using this technique for chronic, inoperable back pain. She told me, "Whenever a dull ache begins to feel sharp, that's my body's way of telling me to slow down and also do yoga. If I listen, I can prevent the pain cycle from worsening."