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Pain relief! Cursing vs Tonglen

Wow, my friends and I must be pretty pain-free according to this msnbc article:

“Stub your toe? Say ‘Sh#!’ You’ll feel better”

Everybody wants to avoid pain, but no one can. That’s not even a particularly Buddhist insight. Living beings do different things to make the unavoidable pain feel better, right?

Well, swearing turns out to be way more effective than other stuff!

British researchers, realizing that “How much pain you feel when you stub your toe or hit your thumb with a hammer is a result both of the signals sent by the nerves in your body and of your mind’s interpretation of those signals,” performed experiments testing how long subjects could keep their hands in frigid water. Those who cursed like sailors reported feeling less pain and could endure the water longer. The researchers speculate that the expressions of anger distracted the mind away from the pain sensation.


So, I guess cursing works as a palliative, but what do repeated expressions of anger do to us from a buddhist perspective? That’s an interesting question.

From what I’ve studied and from my own experience, repeatedly expressing anger makes a pattern. A pattern of being angry. When I feel things, pain, and I get angry because I don’t particularly want to feel them, I can chose to notice that, or immediately react with aversion or distraction. I can notice that, too.

One recommendation that I’ve been working with lately is to dive right into the pain, stare it down, and feel it. And watch it pass and watch my reaction to it. And feel that reaction of anger fully, dive into it, and feel what co-emerges from it. But not act out on it.


Another recommendation I’ve been working with, which is part of the lojong teachings in mahayana path in Tibetan buddhism, is to practice tonglen.

As Chogyam Trungpa states in Training the Mind and Practicing Loving-kindness:
“When you are in the midst of perverse circumstances such as intense sickness, a bad reputation, court cases, increase of kleshas,
or resistance to practice, you should develop compassion for all
sentient beings who also suffer like this, and you should aspire to
take on their suffering yourself through the practice of lojong [exchanging self for others].”


So, when I feel pain, I can feel compassion for all beings who feel similar pain, and “aspire to take on their suffering” myself. And then wish that all good things I feel go out to them.

I’m not even sure I know what that means, or precisely how to do that, but I try.

I think sometimes that practice itself might be a way of avoiding pain, but I’m still investigating that one.

And cursing. Hey, we’re only human.

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posted July 14, 2009 at 12:27 pm

I absolutely think that we can whirl ourselves into an eternal feedback loop of anger and pain. I often find myself angry at something and then have that anger jump to something else unrelated. As you suggest, it’s good to stare that anger or frustration down and move through it and out! I know too many people who stay in the whirlwind!

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the magic rat

posted July 14, 2009 at 12:29 pm

this post reminded me of the star trek episode in which an empath absorbed others’ physical pain. but i think i prefer cursing.

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posted July 14, 2009 at 3:52 pm

There has been a lot of research suggesting that Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction helps with pain, at least chronic pain.

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Julia May

posted July 14, 2009 at 3:53 pm

My new thing, kind of similarly, is to try and have my automatic response be “interesting!” Annoyed at a yoga teacher: “interesting!” Feeling listless and bored at a party: “interesting!” Feeling like my writing mojo has gone the way of the dinosaur: “let’s see what this is about!”
It does seem to help. But it only happens if I’m already in a mindfulness groove. Also, when I do get interested in the emotion – the pain – whatever – I find I have to avoid interpreting it. Curiosity is different from analysis, and I try to avoid finding the answer.
I agree that sometimes Tonglen if done kind of automatically instead of exploratorily, and as a prescription rather than a process can feel like pain avoidance.

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posted July 19, 2009 at 4:09 pm

Just keep doing what you are doing now (if the pain is not going to hurt you).
When sitting cross legged on the cushion for a long time, the leg pains will come up. How do you deal with it? Sitting meditation is a way to teach us how to focus on what we are doing and not to be distracted, no matter how painful it is. Since Buddha teaches that everyone has Buddha nature, how do you manifest your Buddha nature at that moment?

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posted August 1, 2009 at 10:32 am

I recently came across your blog and have been reading along. I thought I would leave my first comment. I don’t know what to say except that I have enjoyed reading. Nice blog. I will keep visiting this blog very often.

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Pain Relief

posted August 25, 2009 at 11:33 am

Pain is something that everybody has in their body and experience that quite often on different occasions due to so many different reasons like work pressure, mental stress and illness, marital difficulties and personal problems
i was one of them to experience a pain all over my body which was mainly because of my work and it was so bad that it was affecting my mind and making me feel so stressful, i tried a lot of medications but none worked for me until i was adviced by one of my colleague to take it this way and it did work for me
and it took me so easy and today i am so different than before.

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