Zazen and adventures with pain

Zazen is a form of sitting meditation that comes from Zen practice, and it’s all about being present and aware in the moment, and noticing what is happening. Now, all of the physical meditations I use tend to interest me for their capacity to control the body – calming and relaxing being part of that. However, I come to realise I’ve got into a thing that I need to get out of.

I tune out pain. I’m good at ignoring it, and telling myself it isn’t there. A long history underpins this, to do with various people who assumed that if I expressed discomfort I was just being lazy, attention seeking or a drama queen. There were some situations in which expressing pain could result in life getting harder, not easier. I learned to keep my mouth shut. It’s easier not to accidentally show pain when you have decided it doesn’t exist. Mind over matter: No mind, no matter. I learned not to feel, and I learned to blank out my body. There were short term scenarios in which that was a useful survival tool, but it’s not a place to live.

Like my body, my mind is rather finite. I only have so much will power, so much cognitive capacity to throw at tuning out the pain. So, there have been days when it’s been like living with a lot of background noise, and I struggle a lot with what my body isn’t able to do. My concentration suffers, I do not think as well. I know there is a problem. The affect on my thinking bothers me more than anything else, but that too is an attitude issue that I am going to reconsider.

What would happen if I just lay down and paid attention to my body? That was a learning experience. There’s a lot of tension in my body, a lot of muscle and joint pain – I was somewhat aware of this, it’s hard not to notice on the days when the stiffness affects my movement. I have little idea where the edges of my body are, or how its feeling most of the time. Sitting in my own skin and paying attention was not a comfortable experience, but it taught me a lot. Not trying to shape the experience as I normally would with meditation, but letting whatever came, occur, I felt a lot of the pain I normally tune out. I also felt more real and present.

I don’t have to run flat out anymore, and none of the people around me think I’m a slacker or feel the need to do competitive illness (that whole, ‘I’m more ill than you, you have to look after me’ game). There is no one who will take my expression of discomfort as though it was an attack on them. It is safe to say ‘ouch’. It’s not easy to say ‘ouch’ but that’s a practice issue. The first job is to allow myself to be aware of what hurts, and when, and why. It occurs to me I might be able to make practical changes to alleviate it. I’ve started giving more time to stretching and other things that make me hurt less. I’m making more time to rest too, and to generally take care of myself.

About Nimue Brown

Druid, author, dreamer, folk enthusiast, parent, wife to the most amazing artist -Tom Brown. Drinker of coffee, maker of puddings. Exploring life as a Pagan, seeking good and meaningful ways to be, struggling with mental health issues and worried about many things. View all posts by Nimue Brown

One response to “Zazen and adventures with pain

  • Andrew Smith

    Druidry and Buddhism are extraordinarily compatible, I’ve found. Regarding the concept of moving towards suffering in order to be free from it, I have found it possible to be free from a headache by searching for it. I look into the brain, but it’s just a collection of cells, which are made up of atoms, which are 99.9% empty space, going deeper and deeper until ultimately I discover emptiness. And, if all things are empty of inherent existance, so too must be the headache… and the pain slips away.

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