Meditation as painkiller?

In only a short time meditation managed to change my life for the better. Here is the reason why …

Deutsch: Meditation für Schenkelklopfer

A while ago the feeling came over me that it was time to find new ways to deal with my neuropathic pains. After my life had been revolving around my steady companion for the last fifteen years, I decided to make another attempt not to give pain as much room in my life. I started to meditate.

Esoterism

The positive impact of meditation on body and mind is no secret, you read and hear constantly about it. Also more and more scientific studies followed up with that subject and partially freed meditation from its esoteric touch. My curiosity was aroused. As usual though the first step was the hardest.

It was a short article I stumbled across which gave me the final boost to get going. Even though I can’t recollect neither title nor author, I luckily still can bear the basic content in my mind. First and foremost two aspects finally dispelled my last doubts.

5 minutes

First of all it relieved me tremendously to know that it is not necessary to move into Buddhist convent and live in asceticism to dedicate oneself to meditation. It’s quite sufficient to invest 5 minutes a day and pull it trough consequently.¹

Wheelchair user with a yellow hoody on a wooden plattform on the beach. The photo is taken from behind. The hood covering the head. In the background is the sea with one windsurfer on the shore.
The beach in the morning is the perfect place to meditate.

But what to do during those 5 minutes? There is a wide spectrum of meditation exercises that range between mantra techniques, breathing exercises and mindfulness meditation.² I myself opted for respirative meditation as a start. Slowly breathing in and out through the nose whilst following the airflow in your mind. Feel how the air flows through the respiratory system into the lungs, how chest and belly are lifting themselves while breathing in and lowering themselves while breathing out. Sounds pretty easy but is hard to put in practise. You will soon notice how fast and how far the mind tends to wonder – in my sessions I still spend more time on digression than on really being focused.

This is where the second sheet anchor of this ominous magazine article comes into play. It managed to make me loose my fear of failure. It’s only natural and not a bit condemnable to digress during meditation, the article states. Perhaps this might even be inherent to meditation and impossible to switch off all the way. More important is to be aware of the deviation and refocus again. This way moments of absolute concentration should expand while those of deviation shorten.² And if not, it is only half as bad anyway.

Carrot and stick

Thanks to this article I was actually able to go through with my first meditation sessions. For me however it was also important to keep at it and not to let meditation drown in my day-to-day life. The goal was to make meditation a daily habit.

Once I read that one has to pull through a certain activity on a daily basis for about two months for it to become a habit.³ This is why for starters I resolved to invest at least 5 minutes a day into meditation even if that meant lashing myself to do it. The only problem is that I am not the stick kind of guy – I prefer the carrot. All the more pleasing it was for me to find out that the meditation itself combined with the feeling of complete relaxation afterwards was so rewarding that I could put my symbolic whip back in the drawer. I even started to exceed those 5 minutes pretty soon – today my sessions last around 40 minutes each.

Is it worth it?

YES. After one year of meditation I can claim to have gained a lot for myself. This especially stands out in terms of my impulsiveness. Those who know me better can confirm that at times I can be quite … short-tempered.

This tendency to irascibility in combination with my neuropathic pains used to cause me serious problems. I couldn’t handle that the only distinguishable sensation in my legs is pain. This led to self aggressive behaviour which sometimes was that distinctive that I myself inflicted intense bruises to my upper legs by literally beating myself. Today this is not the case anymore. Meanwhile more than half a year has passed without me causing myself any injuries – something I definitely owe to meditation.
Seen from distance it’s easy to realize that my flawless upper legs are nothing less than the expression of my newly found serenity. Things that used to make me explode on a regular basis, today mostly bounce off me – to my own astonishment (and delight).

And the pain?

In advance: No, the pain has not disappeared – let’s not exaggerate. Also I haven’t lied down on glowing coals yet. Nevertheless I am convinced that meditation has brought significant improvement to my pain related issues. The only question is how.

Because even though I myself have not noticed major changes, close friends of mine did signalize me that today I cringe in pain weigh less then I used to. Could it be that my pains have improved in such small steps that I haven’t even noticed? A classical growing grass situation?

So even if I can’t be certain if or respectively how much my pain has improved lately, I can claim that, together with my newly found serenity also my pain tolerance has risen. Simply said: I now have thicker skin then a year ago.

Be that as it may – meditation has become an unexpected personal gain in my life. And I haven’t reached the end of the road yet.

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References:
¹Another simple trick I learned is to time each session (at least at the beginning). Just take out your cellphone set the timer on 5 minutes and off you go. Like this you are not tempted to constantly check the time.
² see Ulrich Ott 2011 (German source): „Meditation für Skeptiker – Ein Neurowissenschaftler erklärt den Weg zum Selbst“
³ see Gewohnheiten in 21 ändern (German source)

 

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