Working with pain

In this clip from a class on the Eightfold Path Ken talks about the value of cultivating inclusive attention and gives advice on a way to work with pain and discomfort in the body....

Working with pain (from 8FP02 01:11:30.1 - 01:16:37.0)

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Now, attention. This is usually mindfulness. And this term has now become somewhat of a cliché, but like all clichés it contains a truth. It's usually described in terms of the four foundations of mindfulness: mindfulness of the body, which actually means all sensory experience; mindfulness of feeling tones, that is the tone of pleasant, unpleasant or neutral that accompanies experience and whether it's a physical sensation or mental sensation. And then mindfulness of what is usually translated as mental states, but it's like what's going on internally, and then mindfulness of all experience.

Now I'm not quite sure how this happened, I think there are a number of possible ways, but people tend to associate mindfulness and attention with the narrowing of attention. It may be the word concentrate, was influential here. And so people often approach their practice and approach any form of practice of attention with the focus of narrowing and excluding things.

And this has been really problematic in a lot of people's practices. Because when they're excluding things stuff gets suppressed and that comes back to bite them in all kinds of ways. Creates sometimes quite severe imbalances.

And one of the principles which at some point I was forced to start relating to, because I was getting into such a bad place in my practice, is the notion of inclusive attention. That is you include everything in your experience. So you may be attending to something but you don't ignore everything else.

And so at the beginning of the meditation period when I said to you, "Rest in the experience of breathing," it's different from focusing on the breath. When you rest in the experience of breathing you are in the experience of breathing, but as you rest more and more completely you include absolutely everything that you experience. Don't be distracted by any of it but you will include everything you experience because it's all part of the experience of breathing. And you'll still be right there with the breath but experiencing everything. And this notion of inclusive attention really helps form a relationship with your experience which is free from struggle, which is really what the point of the whole exercise is. So that's something I think you may find helpful.

One of the ways that I've found to work with pain and discomfort in the body is an application of this. I had a lot of difficulty with pain in the three year retreat and I took the instruction and put my attention on the pain. It was not a good thing to do. I learned much later that when you put your attention on something, energy collects there. And so if you put your attention on the pain in your body then you are often drawing energy into the place that is already stagnant. The energy stagnates and makes things worse.

What I found works much better is to be aware of your whole body and include the sensation of pain in the awareness of the whole body. And that way you aren't focusing on the pain but you are opening to the experience of it. Because you aren't focusing on the pain you aren't drawing energy or sending energy into that.

Because you're aware of the whole body you're creating the conditions in which energy can circulate freely in the body in the way that it wants to, or the way is natural for the body. And that is going to move energy through that area of pain, allow energy to move through that, and that's going to break up the stagnation of energy there.

So from a very practical point of working with pain in the body this inclusive attention and working with an expanded field of attention rather than narrow focus of attention I found to be very very important. So, that's a principle that I hope will be helpful to you.