Awareness is Medicine to Ease Suffering

Awareness or mindfulness is one way that an individual can respond to pain and discomfort. While many would want to be free from physical discomfort, some discomfort is inevitable for everyone, and mindfulness can help ease this condition. In doing this, the individual can learn how to manage the pain and suffering until recovery is complete.

There are three components to physical discomfort, which are as follows:

  1. The physically unpleasant sensation itself, such as pain, aching muscles or fatigue;
  2. The emotional reaction to the discomfort, such as anger, frustration or fear;
  3. The thoughts triggered by the discomfort, often with little basis in reality.

Two of the aforementioned parts are mental in nature, commonly called ‘mental suffering’. This exacerbates the physical pain because the mental pain is felt throughout the body.

Mindfulness is the art of paying careful attention to the environment in the present moment using any of the senses of the body or mental cognition. Also called awareness, this is a practice because it takes training and practice to utilize, as many thoughts dwell in the past and future. One need not be in a meditative state to practice this, as this can simply be achieved with just focus on the breaths taken or the ambient noise around the individual. Focused attention to the present moment is the foundation of mindfulness. Breathing is a good way to start off, as breathing is always present and real to the individual.

When one becomes mindful, it calms and steadies the mind. This is important as the mind suddenly runs a thousand ways when one is feeling stressed or wrung out. This is essentially a muddy blur, but with mindfulness, the mind becomes clearer allowing us to segregate emotions and thoughts during the moment. With a better and clearer view, the individual can make skillful choices about their response to these emotions and thoughts and these choices would lessen the effect of suffering on the individual.

The common reaction to physical discomfort is resistance and rejection, often channeled as frustration or anger. In doing mindfulness, the individual can counter the habitual response with one that is more skillful. An example would be pain and as a result, aversion to pain would be exhibited as frustration. There are two available choices, one would be to allow the habitual response to grow and become stronger, resulting in increased mental suffering. This in turn exacerbates the physical pain as the muscles around the pain center tighten up because of the frustration. The better response would be to acknowledge the frustration and then move the mind to more compassionate and kind thoughts of oneself.

With the thoughts of kindness, the individual can just focus on the physical sensation and it is not just a solid wall of discomfort. There are waves of sensations where some may actually be pleasant with differing levels, such as heat, pulses or tingling. Mindfulness can help examine physical sensations and its ever changing nature. This would help break up the sense that the whole body is in discomfort and instead part of it is feeling the pain. It also provides positive feedback as the changing sensations would show that the frustration would be impermanent too.

Another aspect would be stressful thought patterns. Being aware of the stories that are told about the physical discomforts would be able to steady and calm the mind. When this is achieved, individuals are able to see thoughts more clearly allowing for individuals to make choices. The thoughts that come with the pain can either be believed in or just be validated. The best relief would be to let go of stress-filled stories that has no basis in fact or reason. Ultimately, it would feel like a weight has been lifted from the mind.

Ultimately, mindfulness or self awareness is the best medicine, as this can calm the mind and nerves to be able to skillfully address stressful emotions and thoughts. This eases the physical suffering because the pain is localized physically and not exacerbated mentally.

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