I recently visited a friend in the hospital who had two operations to alleviate debilitating back pain he’d had for three years. After the second operation, he was in, “More pain than I’ve ever been in –magnified by 10.” As one point during our visit he turned inside and tuned me out to fight the pain. I got his attention, looked him straight in the eye and repeated several times in a steady and calm voice, “It hurts. The pain is real. You’re not making this up. You can get through this. Keep acknowledging the pain. Don’t fight it, resist it or try to will it away. It’s real and it hurts.”
Within moments of talking to him like this, the extreme force of the pain subsided to a relatively manageable level and the color, which had blanched from his face, returned. Later during our conversation, the pain overtook him and again, we locked eyes while I repeated what I’d said earlier. Again, the pain subsided and the color returned to his face.
I had a similar but thankfully, less intense experience myself. I was getting deep tissue body work that hurt so much I let rip countless four letter words until I realized that cursing wasn’t relieving the pain of the treatment. In fact, it was worse.
The massage therapist reminded me to acknowledge the pain the way I acknowledged it with my friend at the hospital. The very next moment the pain was gone and I could tolerate the deep work with ease. It simply didn’t hurt, which shocked me because the therapist said he was exerting the same amount of pressure as before.
It could have been that I relaxed so the muscles weren’t tight and I’m sure that had something to do with it. But the irony is, the more you hate the pain, whether physical or emotional, the worse it gets. Pain plays an important funtion in our lives, giving us important information. It’s there for a reason and will scream until it’s heard.
It works this way with cravings as well. The next time you have a craving, instead of attempting to deny it (which works great, right?) wishing it would go away (that doesn’t work too well either!) — accept and listen to it. Name and be curious about it. Wonder, with an open mind, why it’s bothered to settle in your body/mind.
Try, “It’s true I’m having this craving right now. It’s intense. I want it (the food you crave). I’m worried it will never go away. I think I’ve got to have it now.”
Or try to imagine this craving as if it was a separate person while you acknowledge and listent to its point of view and concerns. What if you asked, “what does this craving think would happen to me if it didn’t get what it wants right now?”
You may be quite surprised that what is wanted and needed is a hug, a kind word, or some rest. If you’re truly curious and open, you may be in for a pleasant surprise as you get answers you didn’t expect and the pain desolves.
This is the gift of mindfulness. Try it. You might like it.